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Substance over Style: the 1006 Navy ChairAuthor: Radmila Durasinovic
Substance over Style: the 1006 Navy Chair
The world of design is often perceived as one of extravagance, with products that are colorful, unconventional, and challenge traditional expectations usually receiving the most attention of the general public. However, sometimes great design isn’t about style, but substance. In fact, some of the most enduring designs of our time are those that stand the test of time by virtue of their practicality, technical innovation, and quality. There is no chair that better embodies this approach than Emeco’s 1006 Navy Chair—one you have probably seen countless but may not have noticed, but whose global success and longevity lies in its functionality and durability. Built to last 150 years, its design hasn’t changed since 1944, ultimately demonstrating that great design shouldn’t be judged solely by the eye, as is often the case, but by the effectiveness with which it serves its intended purpose. The Navy Chair’s story is one of a quiet, but enduring star, whose trajectory can be traced from the Second World War, through high-end commercial interiors to cinema’s cult classics.
During the Second World War, the US Navy needed a chair that was lightweight, fire-resistant, corrosion-resistant, and able to withstand torpedo blasts. Emeco answered the call of duty and designed the Navy Chair, which was first produced in 1944 for use on submarines. During the Navy's selection process, Emeco's founder reportedly demonstrated the chair's durability by throwing it out of an eighth-floor window of a Chicago hotel, where it survived the impact without bending or breaking. After the war ended, the chair continued to be used in public service, mostly in prisons, hospitals and government buildings.
“In America today, most people think of design as shape,” says Gregg Buchbinder, the owner of Emeco. “The average consumer doesn’t realize that design is so much more than that” — how the chair is made also matters.”
Still sold to this day by Emeco in its original form, the chairs are created using the same production process and come with a lifetime guarantee. Each piece undergoes a meticulous 77-step process that takes two weeks to complete, which Emeco claims is a “completely impractical process for a chair. Unless you want a chair that lasts forever.” Despite the common belief that these chairs are cast from a single form, they are, in fact, welded together from twelve separate pieces that create the distinctive Emeco design. The choice of material is also a signature aspect of the design—recycled aluminium, hand brushed for tactile and visual interest and anodized for durability.
The combination of the Navy Chair’s simple, yet effective design and high-quality production caught the eye of designers during the 1970s. By the turn of the century, the Navy Chair ascended to the realm of designer furniture, becoming the prime choice for interior designers and appearing more and more in high-end restaurants, hotels, and luxury homes.
"Ettore [Sottsass] was the first designer who took our chairs out of their typical environments - navy ships, prisons, hospitals - to use them in contemporary interior design projects. Through him Sir Terence Conran, Frank Gehry and Philippe Starck discovered the Emeco chair creating resurgence in the 1990's." – Gregg Buchbinder, Emeco Owner.
The Navy Chair's rising popularity did not go unnoticed by set designers either, who were quick to incorporate the chair into their productions, making the Navy Chair a true star that has appeared in countless films and tv shows over the decades. The chair’s clean, streamlined design makes it a versatile piece that can suit a wide range of settings and design styles. Furthermore, the chair's association with the military and its industrial aesthetic gives it a rugged and robust quality which has made it particularly useful for depicting settings associated with the government or law enforcement. In genres such as action and war films, the Navy Chair's toughness, strength and resilience are commonly used to portray the grit and coldness of the system as seen in the Dark Knight, I, Robot or Terminator: Genesis for example. Pay attention the next time a bare, grey room with harsh lighting and a two-way mirror appear in a film: you’ll likely find the suspect being interrogated and the hard-boiled detective looking for the truth are sitting on the Navy Chair.
The Navy Chair represents durability in every sense of the word. Its longevity and ability to withstand the test of time, both physically and in terms of design relevance, is a testament to its exceptional quality and craftsmanship. There is no doubt that Emeco’s most iconic design will continue to serve as a symbol of unwavering strength in the decades to come—in an era of planned obsolescence, the Navy Chair stands in contrast to demonstrate the power of thoughtful and sustainable design.
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