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The Chair: Rethinking Culture, Body, and Design Paperback

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 288 pages
  • Publisher: W. W. Norton & Company; New edition edition (January 23, 2013)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0393319555
  • ISBN-13: 978-0393319552
  • Product Dimensions: 8.9 x 6 x 0.7 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 12 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (7 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #426,239 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

The oldest surviving chair comes from the tomb of King Tut. "Roman chairs were rare, decorative items of luxury." Chairs themselves represent the West—or the "barbarians"—to cultures that have done without them. Office seating uses shape, fabric and size to make clear which chair belongs to the boss. And current home seating—even the "male" La-Z-Boy—increasingly tries to accommodate women's bodies and tastes. So reports Cranz (The Politics of Park Design), a professor of architecture at the U.C.-Berkeley, in this concise, multidisciplinary gem. Cranz begins by surveying the chair's historical kinds, styles and meanings; then addresses issues of back support, body shape and ergonomics; and ends up in a vigorous, detailed argument against the standard right-angled chair and "chair-desk complex," in favor of "body-conscious design" in an attractively described Ideal Workplace. "Sitting is hard work," Cranz's research reveals; seatmakers should, she says, abandon the common principle of lower-back support; the Alexander Technique of somatic therapy holds lessons for furniture designers; "human beings are not designed to hold any single posture for long periods"; garden-variety office furniture is bad for you; and the famous chairs of Modernism are, in general, even worse. Cranz's clear book—half survey, half polemic—may successively delight, instruct and alarm professors in their endowed chairs, designers at their slanted tables, drivers in drivers' seats, parents with carseats and, of course, the armchair intellectual. 85 photographs and illustrations.
Copyright 1998 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Booklist

Berkeley architecture professor Cranz takes a radical departure from her first book, The Politics of Park Design, in offering up a soundly intellectual perspective on the chair--its history, styles, uses, and evolution. Far from being an object of desire, the four-legged wonder as commonly designed and perceived wreaks havoc on our bodies, making the phrase "comfortable chair" a thoroughly modern oxymoron. In fact, Cranz examines in depth most of our sitting apparatuses--from Breuer's Cresca chair to Norway's Balans--and finds most wanting. Her solution? A five-point checklist, a new philosophical perspective (somatics, the science of body-mind relationships), and a range of novel ways to align and support torsos properly. Provocative yet thoughtful, with more than a kernel of truth. Barbara Jacobs --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

66 of 73 people found the following review helpful By Rani Lueder on March 24, 2004
Format: Paperback
Galen Cranz on "The Chair"
Reviewed by Rani Lueder, CPE

This book is about seating and sitting. Having once spent my vacation scouring Europe's museums for the earliest representation of a chair (earliest I could find was 1570), I looked forward to opening its covers.

Dr. Cranz teaches Environmental Design at the UC Berkeley Architecture Dept. Not surprisingly, she cuts a wide swath on seating, spanning history, sociology, industrial design, architecture, ergonomics, and holistic body/mind approaches - particularly the Alexander technique.

Parts of her book are engrossing. In particular, her historical perspective of how chair design has evolved historically [if it is accurate] may be unmatched. Her discussion of the holistic aspects of posture is also interesting.

That said, this book is NOT noteworthy for its review of the ergonomics research on sitting postures and seating. Much of it is plain hogwash.

Throughout the book she refers to us as "ergonomicists" [should be "ergonomists"] and claims the discipline is derived from the Greek "ergon" and "omics" [should be "nomos" (laws)].

It is sometimes painful to read her sweeping generalizations. Dr. Cranz writes that ergonomic researchers "have concluded that the workstation should be an indication of the worker's status" (p. 55) . . . and "status differences have to be maintained, ergonomicists say" (p. 56), citing as evidence two office planning guides written by and for architects that fail to mention ergonomics or ergonomists anywhere in the books.

She misrepresents research, as when she castigates Dr. Etienne Grandjean's "poor reasoning" in Fitting the Task to the Man, writing "Amazingly, Grandjean starts with the slump as a goal" (p. 108). Drs.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By Paolo & Francesca on April 15, 2012
Format: Paperback
This book is more about the institution of sitting than a piece of furniture. I found especially interesting the author's explanation that a practice we take for granted as natural is really culturally derived. For the most part, only people from Western cultures sat in chairs, until those cultures came in contact with the West and adopted (or were forced to adopt) western practices. Chinese people traditionally sat on stools or benches, Africans sat on stools or squatted, Native Americans sat on the floor, the Japanese and South Asians sat on the floor. Other cultures make use of a variety of resting postures productively, but Western culture has insisted that sitting in a chair is the only posture in which to properly study, work, eat, and interact with people.
The author writes that children do not naturally sit in chairs. Young children much prefer sitting on the floor, crawl, kneel, stand, or any posture other than sitting in chairs. They have to be forced to sit in chairs before they become accustomed to it. And sitting in chairs is bad for their development and health.
Upon further reflection, I am coming to regard sitting in chairs in the workplace as a practice of oppression. Instead of acknowledging that human beings need a variety of postures in order to remain healthy and productive, we have forced this notion that only a certain number of postures are "professional." Women, especially, are limited in the kinds of postures that are considered acceptable. Forcing employees into one constricted posture all day is to regard them as machines instead of human beings. While those in the executive office are allowed more comfortable chairs with a greater range of motion, room in their office to stretch, or even a couch to lounge in.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By Alex on December 3, 2012
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
The context of my reading this book is probably important to my review.

Through the [...] I am studying Chairs for the next two years. I'm doing this because I wanted to study something simple, tangible, and ubiquitous. At the beginning of my study, this description seemed to fit chairs. Currently I'm a couple of months into my study and very much have an amateur's perspective on the content and style of Cranz's work.

I really enjoyed reading the book. I particularly enjoyed the content surrounding the history of chairs. I found myself taking notes but I soon stopped because I was essentially copying what Cranz wrote, word for word. There is a lot of material referenced in there (extensive footnotes and bibliography) that I will look back on for my continued studies.

I read the 2nd half of the book considerably more quickly than I read the first part. I think this was A. because I was frustrated by how long it was taking me to take notes AND read the book, but B. I sensed that I would be reading considerably more about ergonomics and the implications of our chair use down the line, so I didn't want to spend too much time memorizing all of the little details of Cranz's opinion. I also got the sense that a lot of the 2nd half was laced with her opinion. That's fine as long as you accept it for what it is. Her opinion may very well be accurate, but I'll have to read a bunch more to verify.

In short, I thought this book was a nice, comprehensive, thought-provoking primer to learning more about chairs. It has certainly shaped the beginning of my studies in that I'm now interested both in "chairs as objects of design" and "chairs as potentially dangerous constructs". Anyone is welcome to follow me as I continue my study at [...]

One random thing: I enjoyed some of the random quotes at the beginnings of different chapters.
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