Furniture design for durability.


photo from:

Tommy Papaioannou  – July 2016

Furniture was traditionally built to last. We can still find, in vintage or antique stores, furniture that was made a very long time ago and are still in a perfect condition. Durability was a build in value that was taken for granted. That was before manufacturers discovered build obsolescence.

As quite ingeniously Jonathan Chapman argues (2005: 9), “Sustainable design methodologies lack philosophical depth”, approaching the problem with superficial treatments and not focusing on the actual cause of it “comparable with that of Western medicine”.[1]

It takes a different worldview, so to suggest a new way of building our material world. There is a large amount of superficial approaches, as well as scientific suggestions that remain inapplicable, or too complicated to be implemented by industry and the designers.

There is no clear path to follow for designers. That makes it challenging and interesting, as well as disappointing and confusing.

Much of the current popular literature has to do with underlying the obvious for all design practices, in order to raise awareness and increase the participation of designers in the question. There have been significant attempts, but without structure and persistence. There are only very few exemptions with good results.

It is always better to deal with a problem at the early stages of it, so it is wise to focus on the design aspect of the problem. By suggesting colours and shapes, designers endorse production methods and materials and their consequences. This should be well addressed and examined in the design education.

“Just as we can measure whether or not a design is ‘usable’ or has a high ‘emotional appeal,’ we should begin to develop a framework to understand whether a design is ‘good’ or ‘bad’ in a sustainable sense.  Durability is a key dimension of what it means to be sustainable and therefore is seen as a contributor to the “goodness” of the design. Consequently, any definition of good design must transcend the traditional ‘eye of the beholder,” definition, which is based only on a subjective aesthetic meter and define a more objective definition of good design.”[2]



[1] Chapman, J., 2005. Emotionally Durable Design. Objects, Experiences and Empathy. Earthscan.





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