Friday, March 5, 2010

Ambiguous chairs - a surprice encounter with concrete

In order to generate discussion of the architectural perspectives of a new building method it seems crucial, constantly to expound on aesthetical as well as technological and structural aspects which are balanced in an integrated architectural practice.

Facing concrete's image -  If nobody likes the idea, never mind how clever the technology.
Besides these issues, the social notion of concrete can be seen as a barrier for initiating a discussion of the implementation of a new concrete technology: Concrete is the most used building material in the world - yet still the cultural image of concrete is really challenged in this part of the world and concrete surfaces are thus seldomly left exposed.
[Anne-Mette in the fabric formed concrete chair /photo by Johannes Rauff Greisen]

The following is a summary of my paper I presented at the Structural Membranes conference in Stuttgart last October – the session on flexible moulds was small but fun amongst a lot of more heavy engineering papers. My part presented a sort of a social experiment done as part of my thesis work on fabric formwork for concrete.

[Detail of fabric with large washers and bolts]
Below is a detail of the concrete surface cast in the fabric above.
 [Detail of concrete surface cast in fabric]

A surprise encounter with concrete
So – since fabric formwork already has ambiguity within the term I decided to create a piece of furniture with the same ambiguity. The specific experiment is the design and production of two fabric formed chairs. The exploration includes presenting to the observer physical objects of a familiar function and scale, but containing ambiguities of the materiality, construction and affordance.

Optical appearance vs haptic perception
The mentioned ambiguities concern optical appearance vs. the haptic perception and information which comes when touching the object and from the act of sitting down. Using fabrics for furniture and thus getting some associations right that come with the function of a chair: Fabric, patterned surface structure and a bulging surface are all associated with the notion of an upholstered chair such as the Chesterfield.

Upholstery fabrics for casting furniture
It seemed a natural choice to use upholstery fabrics for casting a chair in fabric formed concrete. Architecture students at University of Edinburgh have studied the aesthetic surfaces of concrete cast in a number of conventional fabrics bought at the local fabrics store, including both very thin and cheap materials and more sturdy fabrics for upholstery. It was the intention of using upholstery fabric that the pattern from the fabric would transfer to the concrete surface making the appearance of the chair even more ambiguous to the observer.
[Detail of concrete surface cast in fabric]

An observer remarked: “I looked at the chair and in my head I knew it was concrete and couldn’t understand that it wasn’t fabric. Then when I sat on it, in my head I knew it would be hard but I was still surprised to find that the chair wasn’t as soft as it looked.”

Since this conference I attended another one, in Aachen, entitled Constucting Knowledge. I presented a poster in which I further elaborated on the work with this chair and propose it as a physical summary of my literature studies.


  1. As a phoenix carpet cleaning professional these are great tips. Good post.

  2. I'm glad you like it - will you now clean carpets by pouring concrete into them, or ;)

  3. hi anne-mette,
    these are beautiful. i love your idea here. i am interested in seeing more images. i am currently authoring a book that this would be fitting for. i could not find your contact info, so please email me at i can give you more details then.

  4. This is so cool! My husband's company makes the fabric for fabric formed concrete (, so it's relevant too. Now I'm thinking about what else could be made this way...thanks for sharing!

  5. Dr Anne, I adore your work, and am inspired.
    Question, I see a Fibreboard top and bottom, with bracing made of 2x4, but what fabric did you use, and how fastened to prevent sag?please see


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