// Rabbit Ears, a classic japanese look chair gets an american makeover
In 2004, just as their firm was achieving international notoriety, SANAA principals Kazuyo Sejima and Ryue Nishizawa were commissioned to build a small home in Tokyo.
The client asked for a house built for socializing, and the architects responded by with a design for five leafy, open “living rooms.” To complement the unusual succession of spaces, they designed a slender, inconspicuous birch chair that could function in nearly any situation. Its unusual ergonomics made it instantly recognizable, with two iconic “bunny ears” that ostensibly relieved pressure on the spine. It was also remarkably narrow–at around 14.5” wide, it was really more of a stool than a chair.
SANAA’s one-off was soon picked up by Maruni Wood Industry, a Japanese manufacturer of wood furniture, where it’s since seen immense commercial success. Last year the company even produced a limited run of Mini and Minimini sizes, with seat widths of 9.5” and 7”, respectively, and again, the chairs sold out. This year, the company is trying a different angle. A wider one, specifically, with a seat two inches broader than the standard size. Some speculate that the wide version is targeted towards the, uh, more obtuse American market.
The politics of the American figure–we’ll say form–inspires numerous reactions here at home: some (wrongly) argue for the preservation of the right to poor life decisions, while others indicate the larger systemic social issues at play, advocating for new or amended policies not skewed toward some misplaced (and uninformed) libertarian ethos or influenced by corporate profiteering. Clearly, it’s a difficult topic to broach, yet one which has so singularly defined how we and everyone else perceives the shape of America.
“There’s nothing I’m particularly conscious of,” writes Sejima on Maruni’s website. “But I’m aware that my work is sometimes thought of by people from other countries as being distinctively Japanese.” Though she’s clearly talking about more than the proportions of the chair, it’s interesting that it was necessary to re-imagine the chair for the American market. Both original and wide sizes were exhibited last spring at the Canadian Center for Architecture, as part of an exhibit called Imperfect Health, examining medicine and illness through design. The idea, as John Hill first noted, was to draw a wordless comparison between Japanese and American physical standards.
- Graphic Design
- Industrial Design