Zig-Zag

Gerrit Thomas Rietveld

Design: 1932-34
Production: 1935 to c.1955
Manufacturer: Metz & Co., Amsterdam
Size: 75 x 37 x 44.5; seat height 42.5 cms
Material: red-stained elm, brass screws

As a variation on the model of a chair without back legs first developed by Mart Stam, Gerrit Rietveld’s “Zig-Zag” chair remains one of the most radical formulations in furniture design. Presumably the immediate forerunner was Heinz and Bodo Rasch’s eye-catching “Sitzgeiststuhl” (sitting spirit chair) of 1927. Its shape, which the Rasch brothers fashioned to match the posture of a person sitting, consisted of a base and a curved surface bent twice for the back and the upper and lower thighs. Comparable to tendons in human limbs, the construction of the rounded side sections is thus stabilized. Rietveld abstracts from the quite complicated but structurally correct form to create a simple zigzag, but the logic of the construction suffers. Actually a whole series of tests were necessary to achieve a practical solution. “Zig-Zag” appears to completely contradict our ideas of a usable piece of furniture since its free-standing surfaces appear to collapse as soon as any weight is placed on them. However the chair is stabilized by dovetail joints between the seat and back, reinforcements with screws and nuts, as well as wooden wedges in the corners. Rietveld was very much aware of the discrepancy between the simple shape and the relatively complicated construction and said himself, it is not a chair but a “designer joke.” The actual goal of the design was to create a functional form which does not displace space but allows it to be perceived as a continuum; indeed, of Rietveld’s entire body of work the “Zig-Zag” represents the most economical example of such a form. It is an uncompromising transposition of minimal requirements onto a chair, reduced to such an extent that even the screws appear to be decorative. An idea that always accompanied the history of furniture design – of mechanically producing a chair from a single continuous form – led Rietveld to his first experiments with bent, spliced plywood in 1927. In 1932 he began designing what later became the so-called “Zig-Zag” chair for the Amsterdam furniture manufacturer, Metz & Co. Plywood or chip wood on a metal frame was a failure, however. Not until 1934 did he succeed in creating a stable, very comfortable, and even stackable version. From 1935 this was produced with somewhat differing proportions, connections, and surface treatments by both Rietveld’s master cabinetmaker and Metz & Co., in great numbers up until the fifties. The model shown here stems from such a production in the thirties. The producer of today’s version of the “Zig-Zag” is the Cassina Company which purchased the rights to manufacture all of Rietveld’s furniture designs in 1971. Rietveld used the “Zig-Zag” together with a matching table in many of his later interiors and also created an armchair version with and without a perforated back, as well as a “Zig-Zag” children’s highchair. MSC

Designer:
Gerrit Thomas Rietveld

Gerrit Thomas Rietveld