Object stories: Pacific chair by Barber Osgerby

By Penny Craswell

Last night, the new Pacific task chair by Vitra was launched by Unifor/Vitra at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Sydney. The guest of honour was Edward Barber, one half of British design duo Barber Osgerby, who spoke at length about recent projects.

Pacific Chair by Barber Osgerby for Vitra. Image: Vitra

I caught up with Edward after the talk for a quick chat and to find out what makes the Pacific chair special. First of all, it’s important to understand that the challenge of designing a new task chair is immense. This incredibly competitive market is dominated by a few key companies – for whatever reason, interior designers seem to settle on a few key chairs that they specify over and over again for workplace projects large and small.

Edward Barber and Jay Osgerby’s initial sketches show simple forms, with unusual colours (a beautiful orange) and classic modernist lines that are part of their aesthetic. The final project is not too different from these initial sketches, and there is a range of colours, including black and grey for those who are a little less adventurous.

But in the middle of the project, which took five years, the pair almost went off track. Edward Barber explains: “It was getting too complex. We wanted a chair that was visually simple, and we realised we were trying to do too much with it.”

With the final chair, all the controls are there, but they are hidden. To raise the back of the chair you simply reach around and lift it up. There is an intelligent mechanism that adjusts according to the weight and posture of the body.

The result harkens back to the task chairs of the 1960s and 1970s, when office chairs didn’t have those prominent “ribs” – almost alien-like – that are always in black and grey. “They’re a bit aggressive,” says Barber, who contends that all the features of these chairs are not necessary but are designed to reassure you that the chair is ergonomic. The Pacific chair is different. “It’s got a very friendly and calm feel about it,” says Barber, “It’s very understandable”.

Read more in the new Phaidon book Barber Osgerby

Edward Barber (left) and Jay Osgerby (right) sitting on the Pacific Chair. Image: Vitra
Sketches and inspiration for Pacific Chair by Barber Osgerby for Vitra. Image: Vitra

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