Tag Archives: history

MCM Furniture Design History: Kai Kristiansen, Danish Modern’s Last Living Legend

In the last MCM Furniture Design History post, we mentioned that Kaare Klint founded the furniture design department at the Royal Danish Academy of Fine Arts in 1924 and influenced the next generation of Danish furniture designers. The designer in this week’s MCM Pick of the Week, Kai Kristiansen, is one of those designers.

Kristiansen’s style, presumably informed by Klint, is known for clean lines, functionalism, and Kristiansen’s own outside-the-box thinking.

Born in 1929 in Denmark, Kristiansen began studying under Klint at the Academy in 1949. At the age of 26 Kristiansen had set up his own studio, and produced his first “hit” design in 1955:

That’s the #42 Chair, created for manufacturer Schou Andersen. It was radical at the time in that the rear legs, not the front legs, were what supported the armrests. Also note that the suspended backrest appears to float, with no vertical support members coming into contact with it. This chair is recognized as a classic example of the Danish Modern style.

Kristiansen scored another hit two years later with the design of a modular wall system. In 1957, three years before Dieter Rams designed the 606 Universal Shelving System for Vitsœ, Kristiansen designed the Reolsystem Wall Unit:

It was well-received, both domestically and internationally. While much more of a commitment than purchasing a standalone wall unit, the Reolsystem was popular because the end user could arrange and customize a variety of storage components on it to their specific needs.

The Reolsystem was produced by Danish manufacturer SB Feldballes Møbelfabrik, one of the many manufacturers Kristiansen was contracted by. (Others include Fritz Hansen, Magnus Olesen and FM/Fornem Møbelkunst, who took over production of the Reolsystem in the ’60s.) Kristiansen designed chairs, desks, sideboards and wall units. The sideboard that Mid Century Mobler showed us as their Pick of the Week was also produced by SB Feldballes Møbelfabrik:

This is not one of Kristiansen’s smash hits; it is a more workmanlike piece, designed for people’s homes rather than a museum, and we must look closely at it to see what is significant about it. First off this piece was designed in the 1960s. To provide some context, let’s look at this earlier sideboard designed by Kristiansen in the 1950s, here integrated with the Reolsystem:

As you can see, both the bureau and the sideboard have legs connected to each other by an apron or stretcher:

The Find of the Week sideboard, in contrast, has no apron at all. Kristiansen has pared down and minimalized the supporting structure as much as possible; the legs are connected only by two lintels running front to back, and these make the connection to the casework.

Photographed from this low angle, the lintels, though recessed slightly, are visible:

However, when seen from the angle at which this unit would most commonly be seen and interacted with–which is to say, standing height–the lintels disappear from view:

On the thin legs, the casework thus seems to float.

Like most mid century modern pieces, the casework itself appears seamless. The corners are mitered.

The faces of the drawers inside are pure form-follows-function, with a gentle curve cut into each face to admit fingers for pulling.

No fasteners are visible throughout, and the use of materials other than wood is sparing. Felt lines the drawers to prevent objects within from sliding as the drawer is opened, and the tracks that the sliding doors run on are presumably metal, but that’s about it.

In the photo directly above, you can also see that the sides of the drawers are grooved, to accept the wooden runners affixed to the interior of the case. And looking inside the case, below, we can see three rows of holes beneath the two existing drawers:

These are undoubtedly to support additional runners, and it’s likely that the customer had the choice, at the time of purchase, to specify how many drawers they wanted the unit to contain. It might not be as configurable as the Reolsystem, but there was still a measure of customization available.

Kai Kristiansen is alive today, and still actively engaged in design work, well into his 80s. Just last year Kristiansen released a new line of entryway drawers called Entre, produced by Danish manufacturer Great Dane. 

You can read the story behind those here.


Core77

A Short History of Design Leadership

Recently throughout the business press, there have been countless articles about CCOs and CDOs and their value. Large companies like Coca Cola, Pepsi, 3M, Electrolux, and Hyundai have added these positions over the last few years. Most people behave like this is a remarkable new development. It has been the right of the professional practice of design to have a seat at the table since the inception of the industry. We just stopped demanding it.

Some of the most famous and influential people early the in the professional practice of industrial design—Raymond Loewy, Walter Dorwin Teague, Harley Earl and later Dieter Rams—exerted tremendous influence over corporations by working at the executive level. The foundation they laid gives us various models for different types of modern design leaders.

Harley Earl was likely the first corporate VP of Design. He joined GM in the 1920s after a Cadillac dealer purchased his father’s custom body shop. Over time he established some of the first in-house corporate design teams, starting with the “Art and Color” department, then later the “Styling Department”. As the GM portfolio of brands grew, each division got another design team, all lead by Harley. Earl had the ear of Alfred P. Sloan, who was then the CEO, and Earl was able to get him to understand the value of design to attract and retain loyal users. Earl created the concept of the Auto Show, then called GM Autoramas. Here Earl had full control of incredibly expensive show cars that were created to flex his team’s muscles. He used concept vehicles to influence product roadmaps and features by going around production limitations and creating demand straight from the public. During Earl’s tenure, GM became the largest corporation in the world.

Raymond Loewy took a different approach to design leadership. Emigrating to the United States in the 1920’s, Loewy set up a design consulting office in New York. Loewy quickly learned that to do the work and exert the level of influence he wanted to, he needed to collaborate directly with his clients’ founders, president’s, and CEOs. This approach elevated his practice from focusing on quick churn-and-burn project work to long-standing relationships with brands like Coca Cola, Lucky Strike, Greyhound, Studebaker, Pennsylvania Railroad and U-Haul. Working directly with company executives Loewy was able to influence branding, packaging, and advertising in addition to their actual products. In this fashion he implemented some of the earliest forms of design language systems. This expansive thinking, designing everything, is essentially the role of the modern design executive.

Hybridizing the methods of Earl and Lowey, Walter Dorwin Teague took a different approach. Teague started out in advertising in the 1900’s. After a successful 18-year career he saw the early rise of industrial design and shifted his practice to include product design, branding, exhibit design, and packaging. While working across many clients, he was a big believer in bringing design teams to work locally with a company. His teams became direct extensions of the client’s team. He did this most successfully with Kodak and Boeing. In fact, the Boeing relationship was so successful it still exists to this day. If you fly on a Boeing, chances are that someone at Teague designed the interior.

So three of our industry’s founders were all operating at the executive level in different ways. Fast forward a couple of decades to Germany in 1955 where Dieter Rams was hired by the Braun brothers. You might be familiar with the hundreds of products Rams and his team designed there, as well as the guiding principles he created, the 10 commandments of design. What you may not know is that Rams was hired at Braun as an architect and interior designer. He became the head of design just 6 years later in 1961. He held this position until 1995, at which point he actually had a seat on the board of directors of the company.

So what do these four people have in common with each other and how does it relate to the modern design leader? They all share four character traits that helped them become great leaders in our field:

Expansive Thinking
Each one started with a specialty, not necessarily industrial design, and they gained deep knowledge of their chosen field. They then leveraged that knowledge to take on more and more design activities until the entire creative practice was under their purview. Their deep experience in a particular area gave them the confidence to try their skills at other areas of the business. Demonstrated success earned the credibility required to win additional resources, which then allowed them to build teams and extend their responsibilities. Think of Harley Earl, head of design, making such a huge marketing call to create a traveling exhibition of his own concept cars. It was a bold move, but now the entire industry does it. One thing I’ve learned is that if you are not expanding your influence, you are contracting. If you continually show you can do more, your budget will continue to grow. If you maintain the same level of contributions, eventually someone will ask for a budget cut.

Dissatisfaction with the Status Quo
When you dig into the history, in many cases this expansion in responsibilities came from dissatisfaction of how non-creative people were running design. I experienced this first hand as the CDO of Sound United from 2012-2017. Initially I was focused on building the Industrial Design practice. After a year of establishing that, I wanted to bring packaging under my wing, at which point I gained a graphic design team. Dissatisfied with the advertising we were getting from agencies, I had my team start producing our own print and digital ads, which lead to the company eliminating outside agencies. We saved money, raised quality, and gained photography and copywriting resources. Lastly I noticed how much we were spending on outside video production. Using the past success with print and digital ads, I convinced our CEO to allow me to hire a video and motion graphics designer. Within 5 years, I had a team that controlled every creative output; industrial design, UI/UX, packaging, advertising, video, retail displays, trade show exhibits… as Raymond Loewy once said “Never leave well enough alone“.

A Teacher’s Disposition
Looking back at my time in design school, the hardest instructors are the ones I remember most. Even though at the time it felt like they were dragging me through hell, they were the ones who helped me grow. All 4 of these design leaders had reputations for being notoriously difficult to work with, relentlessly demanding the best out of their teams. They believed their people could do things that others said were impossible. This belief pushed their people to deliver, which in turn helped them grow. The fun thing about stretching is you never go back to the same size. Many of their protégés went on to have outsized careers of their own. They realized that the end product lasts a lot longer than a difficult conversation or a late night working. In the end, the work is what prevails.

Manage Up as well as Down
The traits above will help any design leader manage their team to success. But the single biggest reason these designers got seats at the leadership table is because they took it. In business you’re rarely simply handed an opportunity to excel and expand—you have to prove that you are a leader and then essentially demand to be treated and compensated as such. This is not to say you should have a false sense of bravado or entitlement. On the contrary, after you demonstrate that you can contribute at a high level, can coach others to do the same and have the ability to extend beyond your specialty, you have truly earned a seat at the big table. At this time, you need to ask for it and gladly accept the responsibilities that come along with it.

These same four characteristics always bubble up in conversations with my peers in design leadership. For those of you with the ability and the constitution to weather tough situations, I argue it is your duty to your team and the profession as a whole to step up to the leadership level. We are living through the second wave of design leadership—let’s make sure this one lasts.

Ed. Note: Michael will be discussing these ideas and more in a keynote lecture on design leadership at the STRUKTUR Design Conference in Portland, Oregon on April 26th.


Core77

A Short History of Design Leadership

Recently throughout the business press, there have been countless articles about CCOs and CDOs and their value. Large companies like Coca Cola, Pepsi, 3M, Electrolux, and Hyundai have added these positions over the last few years. Most people behave like this is a remarkable new development. It has been the right of the professional practice of design to have a seat at the table since the inception of the industry. We just stopped demanding it.

Some of the most famous and influential people early the in the professional practice of industrial design—Raymond Loewy, Walter Dorwin Teague, Harley Earl and later Dieter Rams—exerted tremendous influence over corporations by working at the executive level. The foundation they laid gives us various models for different types of modern design leaders.

Harley Earl was likely the first corporate VP of Design. He joined GM in the 1920s after a Cadillac dealer purchased his father’s custom body shop. Over time he established some of the first in-house corporate design teams, starting with the “Art and Color” department, then later the “Styling Department”. As the GM portfolio of brands grew, each division got another design team, all lead by Harley. Earl had the ear of Alfred P. Sloan, who was then the CEO, and Earl was able to get him to understand the value of design to attract and retain loyal users. Earl created the concept of the Auto Show, then called GM Autoramas. Here Earl had full control of incredibly expensive show cars that were created to flex his team’s muscles. He used concept vehicles to influence product roadmaps and features by going around production limitations and creating demand straight from the public. During Earl’s tenure, GM became the largest corporation in the world.

Raymond Loewy took a different approach to design leadership. Emigrating to the United States in the 1920’s, Loewy set up a design consulting office in New York. Loewy quickly learned that to do the work and exert the level of influence he wanted to, he needed to collaborate directly with his clients’ founders, president’s, and CEOs. This approach elevated his practice from focusing on quick churn-and-burn project work to long-standing relationships with brands like Coca Cola, Lucky Strike, Greyhound, Studebaker, Pennsylvania Railroad and U-Haul. Working directly with company executives Loewy was able to influence branding, packaging, and advertising in addition to their actual products. In this fashion he implemented some of the earliest forms of design language systems. This expansive thinking, designing everything, is essentially the role of the modern design executive.

Hybridizing the methods of Earl and Lowey, Walter Dorwin Teague took a different approach. Teague started out in advertising in the 1900’s. After a successful 18-year career he saw the early rise of industrial design and shifted his practice to include product design, branding, exhibit design, and packaging. While working across many clients, he was a big believer in bringing design teams to work locally with a company. His teams became direct extensions of the client’s team. He did this most successfully with Kodak and Boeing. In fact, the Boeing relationship was so successful it still exists to this day. If you fly on a Boeing, chances are that someone at Teague designed the interior.

So three of our industry’s founders were all operating at the executive level in different ways. Fast forward a couple of decades to Germany in 1955 where Dieter Rams was hired by the Braun brothers. You might be familiar with the hundreds of products Rams and his team designed there, as well as the guiding principles he created, the 10 commandments of design. What you may not know is that Rams was hired at Braun as an architect and interior designer. He became the head of design just 6 years later in 1961. He held this position until 1995, at which point he actually had a seat on the board of directors of the company.

So what do these four people have in common with each other and how does it relate to the modern design leader? They all share four character traits that helped them become great leaders in our field:

Expansive Thinking
Each one started with a specialty, not necessarily industrial design, and they gained deep knowledge of their chosen field. They then leveraged that knowledge to take on more and more design activities until the entire creative practice was under their purview. Their deep experience in a particular area gave them the confidence to try their skills at other areas of the business. Demonstrated success earned the credibility required to win additional resources, which then allowed them to build teams and extend their responsibilities. Think of Harley Earl, head of design, making such a huge marketing call to create a traveling exhibition of his own concept cars. It was a bold move, but now the entire industry does it. One thing I’ve learned is that if you are not expanding your influence, you are contracting. If you continually show you can do more, your budget will continue to grow. If you maintain the same level of contributions, eventually someone will ask for a budget cut.

Dissatisfaction with the Status Quo
When you dig into the history, in many cases this expansion in responsibilities came from dissatisfaction of how non-creative people were running design. I experienced this first hand as the CDO of Sound United from 2012-2017. Initially I was focused on building the Industrial Design practice. After a year of establishing that, I wanted to bring packaging under my wing, at which point I gained a graphic design team. Dissatisfied with the advertising we were getting from agencies, I had my team start producing our own print and digital ads, which lead to the company eliminating outside agencies. We saved money, raised quality, and gained photography and copywriting resources. Lastly I noticed how much we were spending on outside video production. Using the past success with print and digital ads, I convinced our CEO to allow me to hire a video and motion graphics designer. Within 5 years, I had a team that controlled every creative output; industrial design, UI/UX, packaging, advertising, video, retail displays, trade show exhibits… as Raymond Loewy once said “Never leave well enough alone“.

A Teacher’s Disposition
Looking back at my time in design school, the hardest instructors are the ones I remember most. Even though at the time it felt like they were dragging me through hell, they were the ones who helped me grow. All 4 of these design leaders had reputations for being notoriously difficult to work with, relentlessly demanding the best out of their teams. They believed their people could do things that others said were impossible. This belief pushed their people to deliver, which in turn helped them grow. The fun thing about stretching is you never go back to the same size. Many of their protégés went on to have outsized careers of their own. They realized that the end product lasts a lot longer than a difficult conversation or a late night working. In the end, the work is what prevails.

Manage Up as well as Down
The traits above will help any design leader manage their team to success. But the single biggest reason these designers got seats at the leadership table is because they took it. In business you’re rarely simply handed an opportunity to excel and expand—you have to prove that you are a leader and then essentially demand to be treated and compensated as such. This is not to say you should have a false sense of bravado or entitlement. On the contrary, after you demonstrate that you can contribute at a high level, can coach others to do the same and have the ability to extend beyond your specialty, you have truly earned a seat at the big table. At this time, you need to ask for it and gladly accept the responsibilities that come along with it.

These same four characteristics always bubble up in conversations with my peers in design leadership. For those of you with the ability and the constitution to weather tough situations, I argue it is your duty to your team and the profession as a whole to step up to the leadership level. We are living through the second wave of design leadership—let’s make sure this one lasts.

Ed. Note: Michael will be giving discussing these ideas and more in a keynote lecture on design leadership at the STRUKTUR Design Conference in Portland, Oregon on April 26th.


Core77

MCM Furniture Design History: The Safari Chair’s Military Roots

Here we’ll go into Mid Century Mobler’s MCM Pick of the Week, Kaare Klint’s Safari Chair. An early example of flatpack furniture, this chair, designed in the peacetime between two world wars, has its roots in military campaigns.

The Designer

Kaare Klint is known as the father of the Danish Modern style of furniture design. Born in Copenhagen in 1888, Klint began apprenticing as a furniture builder at the age of 15. He learned technical drawing at an industrial arts school and also attended an art school, where his talent as a painter emerged. Additionally, he was exposed to architecture through the instruction of his father, a working architect.

As he began developing his own designs, Klint managed to blend three disparate elements: Danish craftsmanship, the clean lines of Modernism and the clear-eyed practicality of Functionalism. According to Danish-Furniture.com,

While Modernism — Bauhaus — was rejecting its heritage, Klint embraced it. He believed that a thorough understanding of materials, proportions and constructions of classical furniture was the best basis for designing new. The design of Klint’s pieces is always based on a relentless research — every piece must fulfill its purpose, be absolutely clarified in its construction, have proportions which correspond to those of the human body, and display materials and craftsmanship of the highest quality.

In addition to designing his own pieces, Klint founded the furniture design department at the Royal Danish Academy of Fine Arts in 1924, where he then influenced the next generation of Danish furniture designers.

The Chair

Klint’s Safari Chair, designed in 1933, was based on chairs that the world-traveling Klint had witnessed being used by Americans or Britons (accounts vary) on an African safari. Those chairs in turn were inspired by “campaign furniture,” the genre of furniture used by traveling armies since at least Roman times.

Campaign furniture was designed to be easily broken down, transported and assembled on-site; thus the pieces in this genre needed to be lightweight, sturdy and easy-to-assemble using a minimum of tools. It was flatpack before Ikea, and the utter practicality and simplicity of the genre presumably captured Klint’s imagination.

The chair Klint spotted and was inspired by was undoubtedly the Roorkhee chair, seen below:

On campaign during the Boer War, 1900. Major-General R. Pole-Carew , right, is seated in a Roorkhee campaign chair. National Army Museum, London
Harold Rupert Leofric George Alexander, 1st Earl Alexander of Tunis [seated in Roorkhee chair at left]; Winston Churchill; Wladyslaw Anders. Image via National Portrait Gallery

Christopher Schwarz, who has researched and built versions of the Roorkhee chair extensively, writes:

The Roorkhee Chair is a seminal piece of British campaign furniture and was popular with British officers from 1898 to World War I, according to Nicholas Brawer’s book on campaign furniture. Named in honor of the headquarters of the Indian Army Corps of Engineers in Roorkhee, India, the chair is lightweight at about 10 lbs., breaks down quickly and is allegedly quite comfortable.

The “seminal” part refers to the chair’s influence on other important 20th Century chair designs. Schwarz wrote a second article, here, pointing out the debt owed to the Roorkhee’s unknown designer by Marcel Breuer (the Wassily chair), Le Corbusier (the Basculant Chair), Wilhelm Bofinger (the Farmer’s Chair) and Vico Magistretti (the Armchair 905). If you are familiar with those chairs but not the Roorkhee, let’s take a closer look at it.

Here are photos of a vintage version of the Roorkhee chair in both its flatpacked and assembled state. (These photographs are from the Nicholas Brawer book Schwarz referenced above, which is sadly now out-of-print.)

The ingenuity of the design lies not only in its ease-of-assembly, but in how the weight of the sitter plays a role in the structure. With the seatback slung between front and rear crossbars, placing weight on it pulls the crossbars towards each other, which in turn bear on the legs; this has the effect of tightening the side rails in their mortises.

Klint’s Safari Chair is functionally identical to the Roorkhee, with one addition (perhaps): Assuming Brawer’s photo above is of the original design of a Roorkhee, that chair lacks any lateral stiffening, which Klint has provided via buckled belts at the front and rear.

I say “perhaps” Klint added this functionality because other photos I’ve seen of (presumably) original Roorkhee chairs are too small and dark to make out any such belts, so I can’t say for certain they weren’t already there. I have seen photos of modern-day Roorkhee variants that do feature the belts, it is unclear who is borrowing from whom, as Klint designed the Safari in 1933.

Following his Functionalist/Modernist principles, Klint cleaned up the design of the Safari’s legs as compared to the Roorkhee, stripping them of unnecessary ornamentation, and tripled the amount of screws securing the armrest straps to the legs. For the sake of ergonomics he’s added a seat cushion and angled the seat by raising the height of the front crossbar.

Incredibly, after eight decades this chair is still in production. Here’s manufacturer Carl Hansen giving you a closer look at some of the components and construction:

p

It is easy to tell, even in photographs, new versions of the Safari Chair from vintage versions: The leather armrests will have stretched over the decades on the vintage models, whereas the new ones will be taut.

Vintage
New

You’ll note that the new, beige Safari chair in the photo above appears to have a vertical seatback. That’s because the seatback is only attached via two pins at the top of the legs (visible in the red leather chair, above right) and can pivot along the sagittal axis. This not only uses less hardware than a conventionally-mounted seatback, but confers greater comfort to the user.

I am glad that we know Kaare Klint’s name and sorry that we do not know the name of the Roorkhee’s designer.


Core77

MCM Furniture Design History: The Safari Chair’s Military Roots

Here we’ll go into Mid Century Mobler’s MCM Pick of the Week, Kaare Klint’s Safari Chair. An early example of flatpack furniture, this chair, designed in the peacetime between two world wars, has its roots in military campaigns.

The Designer

Kaare Klint is known as the father of the Danish Modern style of furniture design. Born in Copenhagen in 1888, Klint began apprenticing as a furniture builder at the age of 15. He learned technical drawing at an industrial arts school and also attended an art school, where his talent as a painter emerged. Additionally, he was exposed to architecture through the instruction of his father, a working architect.

As he began developing his own designs, Klint managed to blend three disparate elements: Danish craftsmanship, the clean lines of Modernism and the clear-eyed practicality of Functionalism. According to Danish-Furniture.com,

While Modernism — Bauhaus — was rejecting its heritage, Klint embraced it. He believed that a thorough understanding of materials, proportions and constructions of classical furniture was the best basis for designing new. The design of Klint’s pieces is always based on a relentless research — every piece must fulfill its purpose, be absolutely clarified in its construction, have proportions which correspond to those of the human body, and display materials and craftsmanship of the highest quality.

In addition to designing his own pieces, Klint founded the furniture design department at the Royal Danish Academy of Fine Arts in 1924, where he then influenced the next generation of Danish furniture designers.

The Chair

Klint’s Safari Chair, designed in 1933, was based on chairs that the world-traveling Klint had witnessed being used by Americans or Britons (accounts vary) on an African safari. Those chairs in turn were inspired by “campaign furniture,” the genre of furniture used by traveling armies since at least Roman times.

Campaign furniture was designed to be easily broken down, transported and assembled on-site; thus the pieces in this genre needed to be lightweight, sturdy and easy-to-assemble using a minimum of tools. It was flatpack before Ikea, and the utter practicality and simplicity of the genre presumably captured Klint’s imagination.

The chair Klint spotted and was inspired by was undoubtedly the Roorkhee chair, seen below:

On campaign during the Boer War, 1900. Major-General R. Pole-Carew , right, is seated in a Roorkhee campaign chair. National Army Museum, London
Harold Rupert Leofric George Alexander, 1st Earl Alexander of Tunis [seated in Roorkhee chair at left]; Winston Churchill; Wladyslaw Anders. Image via National Portrait Gallery

Christopher Schwarz, who has researched and built versions of the Roorkhee chair extensively, writes:

The Roorkhee Chair is a seminal piece of British campaign furniture and was popular with British officers from 1898 to World War I, according to Nicholas Brawer’s book on campaign furniture. Named in honor of the headquarters of the Indian Army Corps of Engineers in Roorkhee, India, the chair is lightweight at about 10 lbs., breaks down quickly and is allegedly quite comfortable.

The “seminal” part refers to the chair’s influence on other important 20th Century chair designs. Schwarz wrote a second article, here, pointing out the debt owed to the Roorkhee’s unknown designer by Marcel Breuer (the Wassily chair), Le Corbusier (the Basculant Chair), Wilhelm Bofinger (the Farmer’s Chair) and Vico Magistretti (the Armchair 905). If you are familiar with those chairs but not the Roorkhee, let’s take a closer look at it.

Here are photos of a vintage version of the Roorkhee chair in both its flatpacked and assembled state. (These photographs are from the Nicholas Brawer book Schwarz referenced above, which is sadly now out-of-print.)

The ingenuity of the design lies not only in its ease-of-assembly, but in how the weight of the sitter plays a role in the structure. With the seatback slung between front and rear crossbars, placing weight on it pulls the crossbars towards each other, which in turn bear on the legs; this has the effect of tightening the side rails in their mortises.

Klint’s Safari Chair is functionally identical to the Roorkhee, with one addition (perhaps): Assuming Brawer’s photo above is of the original design of a Roorkhee, that chair lacks any lateral stiffening, which Klint has provided via buckled belts at the front and rear.

I say “perhaps” Klint added this functionality because other photos I’ve seen of (presumably) original Roorkhee chairs are too small and dark to make out any such belts, so I can’t say for certain they weren’t already there. I have seen photos of modern-day Roorkhee variants that do feature the belts, it is unclear who is borrowing from whom, as Klint designed the Safari in 1933.

Following his Functionalist/Modernist principles, Klint cleaned up the design of the Safari’s legs as compared to the Roorkhee, stripping them of unnecessary ornamentation, and tripled the amount of screws securing the armrest straps to the legs. For the sake of ergonomics he’s added a seat cushion and angled the seat by raising the height of the front crossbar.

Incredibly, after eight decades this chair is still in production. Here’s manufacturer Carl Hansen giving you a closer look at some of the components and construction:

p

It is easy to tell, even in photographs, new versions of the Safari Chair from vintage versions: The leather armrests will have stretched over the decades on the vintage models, whereas the new ones will be taut.

Vintage
New

You’ll note that the new, beige Safari chair in the photo above appears to have a vertical seatback. That’s because the seatback is only attached via two pins at the top of the legs (visible in the red leather chair, above right) and can pivot along the sagittal axis. This not only uses less hardware than a conventionally-mounted seatback, but confers greater comfort to the user.

I am glad that we know Kaare Klint’s name and sorry that we do not know the name of the Roorkhee’s designer.


Core77

MCM Furniture Design History: The Safari Chair’s Military Roots

Here we’ll go into Mid Century Mobler’s MCM Pick of the Week, Kaare Klint’s Safari Chair. An early example of flatpack furniture, this chair, designed in the peacetime between two world wars, has its roots in military campaigns.

The Designer

Kaare Klint is known as the father of the Danish Modern style of furniture design. Born in Copenhagen in 1888, Klint began apprenticing as a furniture builder at the age of 15. He learned technical drawing at an industrial arts school and also attended an art school, where his talent as a painter emerged. Additionally, he was exposed to architecture through the instruction of his father, a working architect.

As he began developing his own designs, Klint managed to blend three disparate elements: Danish craftsmanship, the clean lines of Modernism and the clear-eyed practicality of Functionalism. According to Danish-Furniture.com,

While Modernism — Bauhaus — was rejecting its heritage, Klint embraced it. He believed that a thorough understanding of materials, proportions and constructions of classical furniture was the best basis for designing new. The design of Klint’s pieces is always based on a relentless research — every piece must fulfill its purpose, be absolutely clarified in its construction, have proportions which correspond to those of the human body, and display materials and craftsmanship of the highest quality.

In addition to designing his own pieces, Klint founded the furniture design department at the Royal Danish Academy of Fine Arts in 1924, where he then influenced the next generation of Danish furniture designers.

The Chair

Klint’s Safari Chair, designed in 1933, was based on chairs that the world-traveling Klint had witnessed being used by Americans or Britons (accounts vary) on an African safari. Those chairs in turn were inspired by “campaign furniture,” the genre of furniture used by traveling armies since at least Roman times.

Campaign furniture was designed to be easily broken down, transported and assembled on-site; thus the pieces in this genre needed to be lightweight, sturdy and easy-to-assemble using a minimum of tools. It was flatpack before Ikea, and the utter practicality and simplicity of the genre presumably captured Klint’s imagination.

The chair Klint spotted and was inspired by was undoubtedly the Roorkhee chair, seen below:

On campaign during the Boer War, 1900. Major-General R. Pole-Carew , right, is seated in a Roorkhee campaign chair. National Army Museum, London
Harold Rupert Leofric George Alexander, 1st Earl Alexander of Tunis [seated in Roorkhee chair at left]; Winston Churchill; Wladyslaw Anders. Image via National Portrait Gallery

Christopher Schwarz, who has researched and built versions of the Roorkhee chair extensively, writes:

The Roorkhee Chair is a seminal piece of British campaign furniture and was popular with British officers from 1898 to World War I, according to Nicholas Brawer’s book on campaign furniture. Named in honor of the headquarters of the Indian Army Corps of Engineers in Roorkhee, India, the chair is lightweight at about 10 lbs., breaks down quickly and is allegedly quite comfortable.

The “seminal” part refers to the chair’s influence on other important 20th Century chair designs. Schwarz wrote a second article, here, pointing out the debt owed to the Roorkhee’s unknown designer by Marcel Breuer (the Wassily chair), Le Corbusier (the Basculant Chair), Wilhelm Bofinger (the Farmer’s Chair) and Vico Magistretti (the Armchair 905). If you are familiar with those chairs but not the Roorkhee, let’s take a closer look at it.

Here are photos of a vintage version of the Roorkhee chair in both its flatpacked and assembled state. (These photographs are from the Nicholas Brawer book Schwarz referenced above, which is sadly now out-of-print.)

The ingenuity of the design lies not only in its ease-of-assembly, but in how the weight of the sitter plays a role in the structure. With the seatback slung between front and rear crossbars, placing weight on it pulls the crossbars towards each other, which in turn bear on the legs; this has the effect of tightening the side rails in their mortises.

Klint’s Safari Chair is functionally identical to the Roorkhee, with one addition (perhaps): Assuming Brawer’s photo above is of the original design of a Roorkhee, that chair lacks any lateral stiffening, which Klint has provided via buckled belts at the front and rear.

I say “perhaps” Klint added this functionality because other photos I’ve seen of (presumably) original Roorkhee chairs are too small and dark to make out any such belts, so I can’t say for certain they weren’t already there. I have seen photos of modern-day Roorkhee variants that do feature the belts, it is unclear who is borrowing from whom, as Klint designed the Safari in 1933.

Following his Functionalist/Modernist principles, Klint cleaned up the design of the Safari’s legs as compared to the Roorkhee, stripping them of unnecessary ornamentation, and tripled the amount of screws securing the armrest straps to the legs. For the sake of ergonomics he’s added a seat cushion and angled the seat by raising the height of the front crossbar.

Incredibly, after eight decades this chair is still in production. Here’s manufacturer Carl Hansen giving you a closer look at some of the components and construction:

p

It is easy to tell, even in photographs, new versions of the Safari Chair from vintage versions: The leather armrests will have stretched over the decades on the vintage models, whereas the new ones will be taut.

Vintage
New

You’ll note that the new, beige Safari chair in the photo above appears to have a vertical seatback. That’s because the seatback is only attached via two pins at the top of the legs (visible in the red leather chair, above right) and can pivot along the sagittal axis. This not only uses less hardware than a conventionally-mounted seatback, but confers greater comfort to the user.

I am glad that we know Kaare Klint’s name and sorry that we do not know the name of the Roorkhee’s designer.


Core77

Vivaldi browser now packs a History feature to dig into your browsing habits

The latest version of the Vivaldi browser is out sporting a new History feature that’s unlike the same component in competing browsers. The new feature includes graphics, statistics, and a calandar-based view for easy tracking.

The post Vivaldi browser now packs a History feature to dig into your browsing habits appeared first on Digital Trends.

Digital Trends

This Week: Explore Experimental Joinery, the History & Development of Children’s Toys and the Work of Architect Rifat Chadirji

Jumpstart your week with our insider’s guide to events in the design world. From must-see exhibitions to insightful lectures and the competitions you need to know about—here’s the best of what’s going on, right now.

Monday

Nectar: War Upon the Bees

A visual essay centered on the way that disregard for bees and the “faster, bigger, cheaper” approach to modern food production is leading to severe consequences for human survival. Through various artistic mediums, the exhibit creates a rich compilation of imagery that evokes an important and socially engaged mission.

New York, NY. On view through February 11, 2017.

Tuesday

Joints + Bones

An exhibition that investigates the structure and connections of design, as opposed to surfaces or skins. Features international mix of emerging and established designers who have found innovative, beautiful and experimental ways of joining.

London, UK. On view through January 28, 2017.

Wednesday

Red A Lamp

Shifting Objects: Design from the M+ Collection

Featuring dozens of key objects and works—from mid-twentieth century Japanese furniture, to familiar products from Hong Kong’s manufacturing heyday, to drones, ‘copied’ goods, and digitally-enabled and open-source practices—this groundbreaking show illustrates how design philosophies and practices have changed from the post-Second World War period until now.

Hong Kong. On view through February 5, 2017.

Thursday 

The Federation of Industries Building, Baghdad.

Every Building in Baghdad: The Rifat Chadirji Archives at the Arab Image Foundation

This exhibition examines the work of Iraqi architect Rifat Chadirji through the collection of his original photographs and building documents held at the Arab Image Foundation in Beirut. With the work of his architectural office, Iraq Consult, and in his other professional and intellectual roles, Chadirji became a pivotal cultural figure in Baghdad during the period of its postwar modernization from the 1950s through the 1970s.

Chicago, IL. On view through December 31, 2016.

Friday

Constructing Play: Classic + Modern Building Toys

An exciting exploration of the development of children’s toys over the past 175+ years. Travel back in time to learn how different building toys were invented, designed, and branded to become the toys that still secretly educate children today! Appropriate for all ages.

Philadelphia, PA. On view through January 26, 2017.

Saturday/Sunday

Invasions

A photography exhibit accompanied by a site-specific installation, featuring work by artist, Charles Pétillon. Pétillon is known for his white balloon installations and resulting photography, which is a testimony of something that does not exist anymore. 

Paris, France. On view through January 14, 2017.

Check out the Core77 Calendar for more design world events, competitions and exhibitions, or submit your own to be considered for our next Week in Design.


Core77

Top automotive barn finds of recent history

The past few years have seen some amazing classic cars unearthed, hidden away in barns, sheds, parking lots, and scrap yards only to be rediscovered.

Continue reading Top automotive barn finds of recent history

Top automotive barn finds of recent history originally appeared on Autoblog on Sat, 16 Jul 2016 18:45:00 EDT. Please see our terms for use of feeds.

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Autoblog

Memories Not Disposable: A History of Single-Use Cameras

I was born in 1991. Film still reigned over digital, but the non-celluloid movement was certainly starting to make waves (and scare folks at Fuji and Kodak).

I first used a dinky (sort of) auto-focus Minolta and Canon cameras, crunched my way through a healthy number of disposables, and then learned more about photo-photos in my teens with a digital camera in hand. Now, I like to think I’ve struck a healthy balance—just one digital camera, a Canon that’s more computer than camera, and a hefty lot of 35mm and medium format cameras. I find genuine value in both digital and film photography. My dissertation on that debate can be saved for another post.

We talk photos a lot at Hand-Eye—it’s a big part of what I do here and a fascination/hobby for many of us in the store. And while we dream and boast of Canons, Hasselblads, and under-appreciated Argus bricks, I still find myself picking up a disposable about once a month. The feeling in-hand drops me back into the mid-nineties, neck cranked back to capture a towering tree above. The flip of the film-advance turns me back in a moment-catcher, not a picture-maker. There’s an immediacy and an ease offered by this pocketable picture machine. Single use cameras offer a cut of nostalgia, a chance to make memories (not perfect images), and they have a storied past. And I hope they have a future…

The Beginnings / The First Patent

In 1886, one hundred years before single-use cameras would achieve true relevance and permanence, Alexander Pop Whittell founded the Ready Fotografer Company and released a, “portable photographic apparatus.” In an effort to make photography accessible to the masses, he patented a camera made almost entirely of paper and a dry photo plate. With no focusing required, Whittell’s camera was made for any person of average ability. After taking the photo, yes, one photo, you needed to carefully cut through the cameras in the bevel, remove the plate, and get it developed. A cut up camera—ah, a disposable! These cameras sold for 25 cents, came with a 24-page manual, and to a degree, achieved Whittell’s goal. However, they were manufactured for less than five years. Though Whittell’s design had it’s limitations, it kicked off the “democratization of photography”—a sentiment and energy that still guides consumer camera today.

Aside from Kodak’s introduction of roll film in 1888, right in step with Whittell’s efforts, the disposable camera race slowed until after WWII.

The Middles / A Camera for the ‘Average Person’

And then, in 1948, with the baby boom just starting to rev it’s fertile engines, two disposable cameras started the new convenient camera race—Frederick Bierhorst with his Picture Box, billed as “The World’s Most Convenient Camera,” and the Photo-Pac made by Alfred D. Weir, an engineer from Dallas. Poor little Mr. Bierhorst was simply outdone by Weir and the Photo-Pac. Weir, like Bierhorst, made his camera out of paper and 35mm roll film, but there was one material that set it apart and gave it staying power: plastic.

Weir debuted the Photo-Pac at the 1948 Texas State Fare at 98 cents. A year later, he improved the camera from 8 to 12 exposures and raised the price to $ 1.49. The intrigue of the Photo-Pac was it’s unique durability, and the convenience of shipping your camera right to the company for development. In 1950, Fawcett’s Inventor’s Handbook named the Photo-Pac one of the “15 Winning Ideas of the Year,” but as the trend would have it, Wier’s company did not survive the next few years. It was the “Imp” camera introduced by Arthur W. Beaurline, one made entirely of plastic, that made the next big splash. Designed to be sleek, simple, offering 12 exposures on 35mm film, the Imp and the later addition, the “Pro,” hung around for two decades.

Disposable cameras were starting to get a grip on the market. Other companies, including Technicolor were trying to compete, adding exposure stops and unsophisticated metering. They were starting to show up in drug stores, hotels, and amusement parks. And two big giants, Kodak and Fuji, were about to get into a film war—one that would inspire innovation and provide the biggest breath into the life of single-use cameras.

Fuji v. Kodak / The Film Race

By the late 1980s, thanks to some aggressive advertising and a little risk-taking, Fuji had caught up to the once seemingly unconquerable giant of Kodak. In the spring of 1987, Fuji released the “Quicksnap,” a disposable of 35mm film for $ 10. Kodak responded with “The Fling” a disposable loaded with 110 film for only $ 6.95. Kodak was likely thinking, “We’re selling a worse camera, but hell, our price point is better. We’ll stay competitive.” They didn’t. In less than a year, they released a 35mm version. And in 1988, Fuji responded with the “Quicksnap Flash,” the first disposable with a flash. This set the standard for disposable cameras moving forward. And with the race fully on, both Fuji and Kodak in a war of disposability in an effort to insure their permanence, people were starting to question the legitimacy of these little throw away machines.

Over the next few years, photo pros would question using something temporary to capture something forever. Kodak and Fuji would continue to add to their designs—underwater versions, telephoto lenses, “panoramic” and “3-D” capabilities, and so on. Now, if disposables were first made to democratize the form, we have to say Fuji and Kodak were losing sight of the original subject within Mr. Whittell’s viewfinder back in 1886. But they had reason to run with the trend. In 1988, only 3 million were sold in America, and in 1990: 21.5 million.

As they became more relevant throughout the country and the world, disposables not only appealed to people that planned to leave their nice camera behind, but more importantly, impulse buyers…

“Look, the world’s largest ball of twine!” says Dad, Teva sandals tight around his untanned peds. “I wish a had a camera,” he bellows. Dad then spots a convenience store nearby, picks up a Quicksnap, and there’s a victory for Fuji.

Disposables continued to enjoy a healthy life through the 90’s, but they had a new, very scary beast breathing down their paper and plastic necks: digital. Kodak, Fuji, and just about every executive and professional photographer wet the bed and refused to believe they were now living in the future. Kodak and Fuji failed to fully evolve, and in 2004, for the first time, digital photo sales surpassed film sales. And in 2011, Kodak filed for bankruptcy.

Staying Disposable 

We’re in the digital age. That’s undeniable. And the gritty evolution from film to digital is for another post. But there’s beauty in the disposable’s ability to hang around. In 2011, 51 million rolls of film were sold in the United States with an estimated 31 million of them coming from disposable sales.

When I romp around with an Ilford HP5 single-use or a Kodak FunSaver, without fail, someone says to me, “I didn’t know they still made those.” They do, and while some of 70’s America feared we were heading toward a culture of careless disposability, I think we could use more of this easy-to-use, truly unpretentious stuff. At least here, you can pin the prints you like on a wall and physically, tangibly throw away the ones you don’t like—it’s more than hitting the trash can icon on the back of a big do-anything camera. Keep both, use both, but it’s worth flinging around these single-use boxes of sentimentality for a quick snap now and again.

Some of the photos here are from a 2014 trip through Olympic National Park. I only took disposables with me, it rained, it poured, I got prints/scans poorly developed at Walgreens, and these photos remain some of my personal favorites.

Written by Jeff Rutherford, originally for Hand-Eye Supply


Core77

Weekend Reads: The Awkward History of Time Capsules and the Most Expensive Homes in Every State. Also, Why Does Burger King Have its Own Sauna?

Core77’s editors spend time combing through the news so you don’t have to. Here’s a weekly roundup of our favorite stories from the World Wide Web.

Now Booking

Incorporating the terrain of the surrounding landscape and creating apertures to take in the sky and the sea, the radical architect Antti Lovag introduced the world to his concrete Bubble House concept in the 1970s. Now, Lovag’s first residential project, Maison Bernard completed in 1971 in the South of France, is open to the public after a five year renovation overseen by the architect Odile Decq.

—Linyee Yuan, managing editor

David Hockney Paints Yosemite—on an iPad

Hockney’s at it again. This time the 78-year-old painter, printmaker and photographer takes on Yosemite, depicting glorious landscapes using an iPad screen as his canvas. I enjoyed this coverage of his latest series, “The Yosemite Suite,” currently on view at Pace Gallery, by Erica Bellman for the New York Times Style Magazine.

—Carly Ayres, columnist, In the Details

Naked Lunch

In a stroke of branding genius, a Burger King in Helsinki has opened an in-store sauna for your dining pleasure. Designed by Teuvo Loman, the sauna has room for 15 patrons who can order their Whoppers in the most traditional of Finnish settings.

—Rebecca Veit, columnist, Designing Women

The Most Expensive Home Listing in Every State 2016

Today I’m reading—and drooling over the photos in—Forbes’ roundup of the best residences from each of the 50 states plus Washington, D.C. It’s amazing to see what you get for your money in each region. I instinctively scrolled down first to the New York listing, which I found both obscenely priced and stylistically unappealing. Out of all of the listings, my absolute favorite was Colorado. I only need to come up with $ 80 million and that property could be mine.

—Rain Noe, senior editor

Brag to the Future

An entertaining piece scanning the incredibly long history of time capsules and their inevitable awkwardness, also showing how the ephemeral objects within reveal some fascinating human tendencies that transcend fleeting cultural moments. This hilarious passage about sums it up: “‘One of the functions of time capsules is glorified advertisement or boasting,’ says [librarian William] Jarvis. To ensure their brag sheets’ longevity, the Assyrian kings ended messages by asking future finders to hype up their accomplishments, like an old-school reblog request. Many courted populist cred: In what Jarvis describes as an early PR move, Mesopotamian time capsules found hidden in walls specifically mention the high wages of the wall-builders.”

—Allison Fonder, community manager

The Questions Each State Googles More Than Any Other State

Sometimes weird, sometimes sad, but consistently hilarious, this map documents the questions each state googles more often than any other state (scroll down to see the list of runners-up). 

—Alexandra Alexa, editorial assistant

Glitchy Rugs

Could you use some more color today? Or more fun texture? Or a reminder that if you’d gone into law you could be filling your house with sumptuous international art by now? Might be time for a refresher on Faig Ahmed‘s beautiful, twisted take on traditional Azerbaijani rugs.

—Kat Bauman, contributing writer


Core77

Weekend Reads: The Awkward History of Time Capsules and the Most Expensive Homes in Every State. Also, Why Does Burger King Have its Own Sauna?

Core77’s editors spend time combing through the news so you don’t have to. Here’s a weekly roundup of our favorite stories from the World Wide Web.

Now Booking

Incorporating the terrain of the surrounding landscape and creating apertures to take in the sky and the sea, the radical architect Antti Lovag introduced the world to his concrete Bubble House concept in the 1970s. Now, Lovag’s first residential project, Maison Bernard completed in 1971 in the South of France, is open to the public after a five year renovation overseen by the architect Odile Decq.

—Linyee Yuan, managing editor

David Hockney Paints Yosemite—on an iPad

Hockney’s at it again. This time the 78-year-old painter, printmaker and photographer takes on Yosemite, depicting glorious landscapes using an iPad screen as his canvas. I enjoyed this coverage of his latest series, “The Yosemite Suite,” currently on view at Pace Gallery, by Erica Bellman for the New York Times Style Magazine.

—Carly Ayres, columnist, In the Details

Naked Lunch

In a stroke of branding genius, a Burger King in Helsinki has opened an in-store sauna for your dining pleasure. Designed by Teuvo Loman, the sauna has room for 15 patrons who can order their Whoppers in the most traditional of Finnish settings.

—Rebecca Veit, columnist, Designing Women

The Most Expensive Home Listing in Every State 2016

Today I’m reading—and drooling over the photos in—Forbes’ roundup of the best residences from each of the 50 states plus Washington, D.C. It’s amazing to see what you get for your money in each region. I instinctively scrolled down first to the New York listing, which I found both obscenely priced and stylistically unappealing. Out of all of the listings, my absolute favorite was Colorado. I only need to come up with $ 80 million and that property could be mine.

—Rain Noe, senior editor

Brag to the Future

An entertaining piece scanning the incredibly long history of time capsules and their inevitable awkwardness, also showing how the ephemeral objects within reveal some fascinating human tendencies that transcend fleeting cultural moments. This hilarious passage about sums it up: “‘One of the functions of time capsules is glorified advertisement or boasting,’ says [librarian William] Jarvis. To ensure their brag sheets’ longevity, the Assyrian kings ended messages by asking future finders to hype up their accomplishments, like an old-school reblog request. Many courted populist cred: In what Jarvis describes as an early PR move, Mesopotamian time capsules found hidden in walls specifically mention the high wages of the wall-builders.”

—Allison Fonder, community manager

The Questions Each State Googles More Than Any Other State

Sometimes weird, sometimes sad, but consistently hilarious, this map documents the questions each state googles more often than any other state (scroll down to see the list of runners-up). 

—Alexandra Alexa, editorial assistant

Glitchy Rugs

Could you use some more color today? Or more fun texture? Or a reminder that if you’d gone into law you could be filling your house with sumptuous international art by now? Might be time for a refresher on Faig Ahmed‘s beautiful, twisted take on traditional Azerbaijani rugs.

—Kat Bauman, contributing writer


Core77

A Brief History of Wood-Splitting Technology, Part 3: The Wind-Powered Sawmill That Changed Dutch History

We’ve seen how being able to effectively split wood was important to earlier societies that aimed to build ships. Both riving and pit-sawing were effective ways to turn logs into the needed boards, but they were also highly time-consuming and laborious. For a country to win the naval race, they’d need a radical new production technology, something that would blow the competition away.

“Blow” is the right word, as it turns out. In 1594, an ingenious Dutchman invented something amazing: A wind-powered sawmill. Cornelis Corneliszoon, who described himself as “a poor farmer with wife and children” figured out that he could harness the power of the wind and attach it to a whipsaw to make it go up and down. He then added another gear to the crankshaft that would advance the material by means of what looks to be a rack and pinion. Here is the drawing from the patent granted to Corneliszoon in 1597:

The result of Corneliszoon’s invention was much faster sawing, without the calorie-burning. Men were still needed to maintain the machine’s operation, of course, but the merits of the design were so obvious that others immediately began copying it (leading Corneliszoon to finally apply for a patent three years later).

The importance of the the wind-powered sawmill taking off in the Netherlands cannot be understated. Wood production didn’t double, triple or quadruple; it grew by a factor of thirty, or 3,000%. It was all in the time savings: Using the pit-saw method, sawyers could process 60 logs over a span of 120 days. Using a wind-powered sawmill, they could break down 60 logs in four or five days. What used to take four months now took less than a week.

As the sawmills began to proliferate and be improved upon, the Dutch began cranking out ships. In the 1600s they became the world’s foremost naval power, destroying a large fleet of their Spanish antagonists in 1607. They began establishing colonies or trading posts, depending on how politically correct or revisionist you are, as far as Taiwan. In 1614 they founded New Amsterdam on a little island called Manhattan, and named a nearby district Breukelen, which we would later bastardize as “Brooklyn.”

By 1650 the Netherlands had some 16,000 merchant ships that sailed all around the world, facilitating their trade. The English weren’t happy with this and a series of Anglo-Dutch wars were prosecuted; this resulted in the Dutch delivering England’s little-talked-about worst naval defeat in history in 1667. Beefs continued, and in 1688 William III of the Dutch Republic sailed to England with a large fleet, toppled the King, and had himself crowned King of England to put a stop to it.

The bottom line is that the Dutch successes of the 1600s were predicated on them having a large fleet. Of course other things were also necessary, skilled businessmen and politicians and military commanders, et cetera, but it’s not unrealistic to think that without Corneliszoon revolutionizing the production method of timber, they’d not have made it as far as they did.

So enough with the history talk, let’s take a look at this wondrous, completely green sawmill technology. While Corneliszoon’s own didn’t survive the 400-plus years until now, there is a rather amazing recreation of a 1600s Dutch wind-powered sawmill, built from the plans pictured above, called Het Jonge Schaap in Zaandam, outside of Amsterdam:


Core77

A Brief History of Wood-Splitting Technology, Part 1: Riving for Reavers

Think about this: We humans have been on the planet for about 200,000 years. For most of that time, the only way to travel long distances was by walking, riding an animal, or having an animal drag some rickety thing you built.

We still managed to spread far and wide as a species, colonizing the far corners of each continent just by hoofing it. But our progress came to a halt when we reached the deep blue stuff surrounding each continent.

To get across water you need to build something more challenging to operate than a donkey cart. For one thing, there’s no way to get an equine to drag it, and your stupid idea to harness sharks for the task is going to end badly. That means the power has to come from humans. If you want the craft to travel far, that means a lot of power, which means more humans. So the thing has to be big enough to hold a large group of guys with impressive triceps and lats.

For raw materials to build the thing, you’ve got your choice of rocks, trees, grass, dirt or dead animals. There was early usage of animal-skin boats in Arctic regions, but wood, which is both sturdy and naturally floats, became the go-to material for regions with trees. The crucial step, as with shelter-buildling, was that we had to learn how to work wood and bend it to the task at hand. With no Industrial Revolution in sight, we had to develop tools and study the material closely to figure out how to make it do what we wanted.

The Egyptians and the Chinese figured out how to turn wood into seaworthy boats, but few examples have survived the centuries, and expertise on their techniques is slim. However, the documentation for what the Vikings, one of history’s first undisputed naval powers, managed to pull off starting in the 9th Century is far better.

Viking ships were absolute marvels of design and engineering. They were both functional and beautiful. As an example of the former, they were designed to be more or less symmetrical from bow to stern, meaning they could reverse direction simply by changing the direction of motive force. As an example of the latter, simply look at their sleek overall forms, not to mention the mike-dropping touch of the dragon heads.

The Vikings had different styles of boats, from warships for raiding parties to funerary boats to proper cargo-carrying vessels (gotta get that plunder home somehow). What their boats all had in common was that they were lightweight, fast and strong. They were sturdy enough to make it across the open ocean from Scandinavia all the way to Iceland, and from Iceland to Greenland (and, some say, all the way to North America).

That the Viking ships were both strong but light is due not only to their design, which we’re admittedly going to gloss over here (though earlier we looked at their excellent carry-on baggage policies), but closely tied to the way that the wood used to build them was actually processed. If you’re an industrial designer today and molding a part, your knowledge of injection molding and understanding of how plastic behaves enables you to yield the most desirable part that the technology and material is capable of. The Vikings were no different, and studied the wood to gain a comprehension of how the material would best serve.

Rather than sawing oak trunks into planks, the Vikings rived them. Riving is when you split the wood by driving wedges into it along the grain, splitting the log first in half, then splitting the halves into quarters and the quarters into eighths. Where the log divides is not determined by the line of a sawblade, but by where the grain will naturally split, keeping the resultant pieces stronger by virtue of their common grain direction.

Rob Tarule riving a log. Images via Fiske and Freeman

By hewing the resultant wedges down, the maker would eventually wind up with a parallel-faced quartersawn board. Here’s what the process looks like, followed by a quick CG animation of how the boards were integrated into the ship:

Quartersawn is the hardiest, most stable cut of board there is. The Vikings could reportedly mill these quartersawn boards to as little as an inch in thickness, which was thin enough to bend into shape for the swoopy forms of their ships, strong enough not to break, lighter than a thicker board, and would not warp.

Riving is still practiced today by woodworkers, as it yields strong and stable boards. Another neat effect is that, well, rived boards look pretty darn cool. Missouri-based James E. Price, an expert in old-school woodworking techniques, recently gave a demonstration at the Institute for Traditional Ozark Crafts. Check out this box he made from rived boards for the event, captured by WK Fine Tools:

It’s even got a removable partition in the middle:

If you’re thinking of trying riving yourself from smaller portions of wood, Maine-based Lie-Nielsen Toolworks produces a froe for the purpose, demonstrated below by Peter Follansbee. The process is a lot quicker than what we saw above, where they’re starting from scratch:

When you’re starting with a full log, the issue with riving is that it takes freaking forever, as you saw in the first video above. As you can imagine, it took both a lot of time and manpower for Viking shipyards to produce fleets. 

Other rising naval powers wanted a faster way to transform logs into planks. Next we’ll look at the wood-splitting method that succeeded riving.


Core77