British designers Edward Barber and Jay Osgerby have masterminded everything from commuter rail cars and the 2012 London Olympic torch to installations for Sony and sofas for Knoll. But one thing that the studio– which has been around for over 20 years–hasn’t produced? An office chair.
About four years ago, the Switzerland-based furniture manufacturer Vitra approached Barber Osgerby with a challenge: Design the next-generation of task chairs. “It sounds really boring when you say it like that–‘Oh my god, another office chair!’–but for industrial designers and furniture designers, it’s really the ultimate challenge,” Osgerby tells Co.Design.
Barber Osgerby’s answer was the Pacific chair, an ergonomic, technical office chair masquerading as a lounge chair, which will make its debut at NeoCon–the commercial furniture industry’s Super Bowl–in June.
When Barber Osgerby began the project, they assessed the task chair landscape and saw that most of the designs looked very mechanical, with lots of levers and knobs corresponding to every possible adjustment. And they were all made from plastic. “The trend was your chair becomes your ‘sneaker’ or your expression of, not really professionalism, but energetic work,” Osgerby says. “But you wouldn’t want to have it in your home.”
The Pacific chair takes a more subtle approach. It offers all the ergonomic adjustments that are necessary for a task chair–movable arms, lumbar support, seat height, seat depth, and so on–but all those controls are hidden in an upholstered, minimalist silhouette. The subtle look of the $1,185 chair inspired its name, which means calm and peaceful.
“It’s really an antidote to not just the machine, but the plastic machine,” Osgerby says. “It’s important that people are given an office chair that’s a ‘full-checklist’ chair. Our ambition was to design something that fulfilled the obligations to the workers, but also delighted them and looked calm.”
The chair’s secret weapon is a mechanism that responds to a sitter’s weight to automatically adjust the backrest resistance, which helps maintain visual simplicity. But it also addresses a fundamental change in how people work in offices–the move toward a freelance economy and communal work spaces. It’s an insight Barber Osgerby gleaned from client requests at their architecture firm, Universal Design Studio.
“One of the advantages we have in having an architecture practice is that it enables us to have vision on how people are working and how it’s changing,” Osgerby says. “That’s helping us think about how furniture should respond.”
The idea for the Pacific is that it’s just as functional for a tall, short, large, or small person with minimal adjustment. Additionally, the designers decided to position the armrest supports toward the chair’s back so people can sit sideways on the chair if they prefer.
“It’s a non-territorial chair so it can be shared in spaces where you don’t have your own designated chair,” Osgerby explains.
While the chair is just rolling off the production lines now and will be available in the United States later this year, it’s already garnered a few fans. Foster + Partners has already specified the design for one of its workspace clients. “It turns out this is the architect’s chair because it’s quite quiet [aesthetically],” Osgerby says. “It doesn’t disrupt their work.”