Prompted by the forthcoming World Cup in South Africa, last year German magazine AIT decided to start up an initiative that would benefit the local inhabitants. For this initiative, the ‘Charity Chair’ project, a 100 architecture and interior design offices across Europe, including GROUP A, were asked to re-design the ‘ONO’ chair by Matthias Weber. The re-designed chairs will be sold in an auction in Berlin this autumn, and the revenues generated through this auction will support the the Guga S’Thebe cultural centre and AIDS orphanage in the Langa Township in Cape Town, South Africa. In advance, the chairs will be exhibited in the context of a travelling exhibition which starts on the 10the of June at the AIT-Architektursalon in Munich, and will continue to Hamburg, London, Rotterdam and Kortrijk.
The task was to give the white wooden chair a new appearance, which somehow reflected the initiatives goals. GROUP A’s approach to re-designing the chair – which we’ve renamed ‘Xhosa’ for this occasion – bears great resemblance to our general approach to designing. We’ve searched for an integrated solution that is practical as well as beautiful, a solution that crosses boundaries.
A chair never stands alone; it is part of a larger unity, surrounding a dining table or with other chairs and sofa’s, often facing inward. To strengthen this unity, and to emphasize the contrast between the ‘inner circle’ and the ‘outside world’,
GROUP A decided to give both the inside’ and the ‘outside’ of the chair a different appearance. We therefore decided to upholster parts of the chair with fabric. This has the additional effect of strengthening the chairs’ tactile qualities, emphasising its ergonomic function.
In order to establish a relationship between the inner circle and the outside world, we made perforations in the fabric – so we can make visible what is hidden underneath – , and we made perforations in the chair itself – so we can show a side of the fabric that was not meant to be seen, i.e. the back. Where the perforations in the fabric and the chair coincide, the inner circle and the outside world connect, and a whole new pattern emerges.
The patterns we used for the perforations are inspired by patterns used in traditional Xhosa face painting. These patterns are still widely used in South Africa, including in the Langa Township. By using these patterns in our design, we feel we go one step further than just making a contribution to the lives of the people in the Langa Township, because the people of the Langa Township themselves contribute to the design of our Charity Chair by inspiring us with their rich cultural heritage.
In our approach, we seek to address the same values as the Guga S’Thebe cultural centre and AIDS orphanage, which use this rich cultural heritage to strengthen the residents’ self-esteem. Both these initiatives have a very positive effect on the lives of the citizens in the Langa Township, and we are happy to support them. Also, we feel that the ‘Xhosa’ Charity Chair shows that good design can have a social function as well as a strong conceptual background.
GROUP A would like to thank photographer Stanislav Solntsev for the beautiful picture of the South-African girl with traditional make-up. Image: www.stanislavsolntsev.com