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Paper Seat Rethinks 5,000 Years of Chair History

Categories: Ideas and Innovation
paper seat Formid Seat

Chairs have been around for millennia, with a rich history that was explored in “Now I Sit Me Down: From Klismos to Plastic Chair: A Natural History” by Witold Rybczynski. But a new paper seat is bucking tradition through innovative form and function. The Formid Seat encourages movement through its unique design, and it uses sustainable and reclaimed materials to decrease its carbon footprint.

The chairs in our offices, kitchens, living rooms and even the great outdoors might be large or small, portable or stationary and made from wood, metal, leather, fabric or plastic. They might even take the form of a stool or a recliner. But their primary function is the same: They provide a place to sit.

But every once in a while, a chair comes along to challenge our concept of what it means to be a chair. Herman Miller disrupted chair design with his Eames lounge chair and Aeron office chair. IKEA made waves with its iconic POÄNG chair. Now, the Formid Seat — a custom-built active seat with haptic feedback — is using sustainably produced paper and reclaimed mining waste to create an ergonomic, eco-conscious seat that encourages its users to keep moving.

Formid Seat Starts with Cougar Paper

Paper furniture is a novel idea, but it’s not exactly new. However, this paper seat eliminates back- and armrests because they limit activity and range of motion. Also, the small seat pivots on a rounded point rather than resting on three or four legs. This design requires users to make subtle movements while they sit in order to remain balanced. Such movement helps reduce the amount of time they are sedentary — a benefit that can increase wellbeing and productivity.

A counterweight keeps the paper seat stable while allowing a full range of motion for people to bend, reach and stretch while they work, and sensors send motion data to an app. The haptic feedback allows users to adjust their sitting habits according to cues from vibration feedback based on the tracking data. In the future, haptic feedback could be used to communicate body language between users online.

The unique design of the Formid paper seat allows a high degree of customization and strength while minimizing waste and reducing environmental impact.

Patrick Danielson is principal architect at Danielson Architecture Office and founder of Formid, both based in Sudbury, Ontario, Canada. While he didn’t set out to create a paper seat, he was fascinated by the idea of creating an active seat — a seat that moves with the user rather than a stationary chair — that’s customized to the user’s body.

The haptic chair adapts based on a user's movements.

The Formid paper seat requires the user to make subtle movements to maintain balance, but also allows free range of motion for a variety of activities. Using the chair can reduce the amount of time a person is sedentary.[/caption]

“It’s a lot like tailoring a suit,” says Danielson. “We built an algorithm for the chair that uses seven measurements to customize the design to the user and the setting in which they will use the chair. But like with tailoring, we needed a flat material that could be cut, creased and folded to the correct shape. We also wanted the material to be sustainable. We considered metal, but in the end, paper was the only real option.”

Danielson was inspired by Japanese architect Shigeru Ban, who is known for his work using paper as a structural material — even using cardboard tubes to construct homes for disaster victims.

“His work was enough for us to know that paper could do the job,” says Danielson. “It was a matter of figuring out how to make a complex form customizable so that each solution is structurally sound. We had great support from the team at Blackwell Structural Engineers and FPInnovations to make the engineering solution parametric for tailoring the design to the body.”

Danielson began prototyping the paper seat on a small scale but soon realized that he needed a source of strong paper for full-scale testing. He contacted Domtar for assistance.

“Domtar has a mill in Espanola, which is not far from here, so it was a familiar name, and we knew we needed to contact those who understood the raw-material properties,” he says. “Domtar’s R&D team provided a lot of information and sent us a roll of Cougar 100 lb. cover weight paper from the Rothschild Mill. We did a lot of testing and refining, including trying flat paper sheets and a higher basis weight, because we wanted to balance fabrication effort, number of layers and quality of folding. But we happened to luck out and find the right material from the beginning — 100 lb. Cougar.”

Another factor that was important to Danielson was print quality. He wanted customers to be able to print graphics on the paper seat for another level of customization, so the paper needed to be ideal for printing. Again, Cougar paper — a premium paper known for its print quality — fit the bill.

Danielson was committed to minimizing waste with the production of the paper seat, so each Formid Seat uses paper scraps or offcuts to strengthen the structure. That means the company can use flat sheets of paper instead of rolls to ease production, and there’s virtually no waste. The paper is also sustainably produced, like all Domtar papers.

Finally, in another effort to reduce waste, the paper seat uses slag — a mining byproduct — as a counterweight.

“Sudbury is a big mining town, so there is a massive pile of slag near our city. Using slag as the counterweight lets us turn that waste into a useful product,” says Danielson. “Paper and slag actually pair well together. One is a lightweight material with highly configurable geometry that provides tension, and the other is a heavy compression material that is perfect as a counterweight.”

Harshad Pande, Domtar’s director of research and development, says working with Danielson to select the paper was exciting. “This is a great example of two fields coming together. He’s an architect; we’re in the paper business. But the common link is structure,” says Pande. “He deals with structures at a bigger scale, while we work with the three-dimensional fiber structure in paper — surface topography, strength uniformity, size distribution, stiffness, delamination, etc. — and how those characteristics meet end-product requirements. Coming together for this project was a really great experience for us.”

Paper Seat Today, Paper Building Tomorrow?

The Formid Seat met its Kickstarter goal in late 2018, and Danielson expects to start selling the paper seats to the public by the end of May 2019. Meanwhile, the Formid Seat will be part of an interactive display at the Bechtler Museum of Modern Art gala on April 12 in Charlotte, North Carolina. Paper is theme of the Domtar-sponsored event.

But as exciting as all of that is, Danielson says it’s just a stepping stone to a future where architecture and paper come together on a larger scale.

“We are testing our architectural intent of customization with this small-scale project,” he says. “We see the human body as the equivalent of a building site. Every building site is different, just as every human body is unique. We created an algorithm that can take those human parameters and design a product to match. By imitating biological examples, we have achieved customization with minimal impact on fabrication and the environment. We plan to take the same concept to the building site, and we expect paper as a building material to move forward with us as well.”