A History of Seating, 3000 BC to 2000 AD: Function versus Aesthetics

by Jenny Pynt and Joy Higgs

Description

The focus of this book is on functional seating, and the key argument presented is that functional seating needs to assist the person using it for the performance of seated tasks, enhance rather than detract from the person’s posture and health, and it needs to provide aesthetic features that do not limit task or health. The book spans the period 3000BC to 2000AD and presents largely Western seating.

This book is unique in its approach to seating because it draws together evidence that relates to seating that facilitates health and task while also addressing aesthetic factors. This evidence creates an understanding of how seats may be designed to not only promote bodily health but also allow functional optimisation of sitting and seating.

Seats designed to assist sitters’ tasks first appeared in history as early as ancient Egypt. These seats were functional in that they assisted craftsmen in performing their tasks or nobility in maintaining culturally acceptable erect postures. The capacity to design and construct functional seating has developed over time, reflecting many factors, including improvements in technology and greater understanding of the effects of sitting and seating on human health.

Until the 20th century, the medical profession had little impact on seating design. By the 1950s, ergonomics became an important branch of seat design, and seating that focused on health and task became a prominent branch of office design. But in the 20th century medical opinion was divided as to what constituted healthy seating postures. Prominent designers of dining and lounge (and sometimes office) seating seized upon this conflict as a reason to ignore sitters’ health and tasks in order to focus on designs that caught the consumers’ eye. Many of these chairs are beautiful, unusual, and original in concept, but they primarily serve the function of art and are not functional to the health or tasks of users.

The authors propose that it is as easy to damage one’s spine sitting in front of the television as it is sitting in front of the office computer. They therefore argue that the design and selection of optimal recreational seating is as important as the design and selection of optimal office seating. To this end, their book seeks to inform users, health professionals, and designers regarding the impact of seating––both in and out of the office––on the health of the low back.

The literature of disciplines associated with the history of furniture design is rich with commentaries on the story of seating written from the perspectives of aesthetics, manufacture, and construction. Many of these histories consider seating to be an evolution in design, reflecting improved technology and sociocultural concepts that celebrate aesthetic dimensions. Few histories consider seating design from the perspective of the users’ task and health. This book addresses this deficit by examining aesthetic dimensions of seating as a characteristic that was dominant or complementary to the facilitation of the health and task of the sitter.

The field of medical history traces the evolution of medical knowledge as a chronological catalogue of ideas of influential people. Some histories focus on the impact of changing sociocultural, economic, and technological factors on medical knowledge. While many of these works are illuminating, none has investigated the evolution of medical knowledge with regard to the effect of sitting or seated posture on the health of the spine nor with regard to the effect of that knowledge on seat design.

This book addresses both of these omissions, thereby clarifying many of the confusions that exist in furniture history literature and paving the way for seat design that considers the health and task of the sitter in recreational as well as office seating.

This book is important to furniture and industrial designers, interior decorators, architects, those teaching seat design, health professionals attending and educating those who relax or work in the seated position, furniture historians, and members of the general public interested in the history of seating.



 

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