Cantilever

Written by Nicholas Kamuda
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Throughout the 20th century, the technique of creating precariously balanced forms through the principles of cantilevering grew in popularity to be incorporated into everything from bridges to chairs. One of the most well known designers to adopt the technique into his furniture designs was Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, who produced many varieties of cantilevered chairs. Among them was one design in particular--the Brno chair) that combined the principles of cantilevering with tubular steel construction and simple, elegant curves.

L.M. van der Rohe's Chairs

The original cantilever chair was designed in 1927, two to three years before the Brno Chair (the design that many people consider to be the result of most of the earlier experiments with the same materials and structural principles). The earlier cantilever chair designs, collaborations with Bauhaus alum Lilly Reich, were meant to explore the structure and materials that interested Mies van der Rohe and Reich. They featured tubular steel frames, closed into a single sweeping piece, with strong leather stretched between the two steel tubes.

The Brno chair, although structurally more complicated than the 1927 chair, is no less elegant. Two leather pads are situated between easy steel curves that lose any visual tension that the 1927 chair design has. The padded leather seats are also visually and functionally more rich and elegant than the 1927 cantilever chair.

Marcel Breuer's Cantilever Chairs

Another designer who explored cantilevering was Marcel Breuer, whose Cesca Chair and Classic Arm Chair both rest evenly on only two legs. Breuer, who also used tubular steel construction, gave his chairs quite a different look than Mies van der Rohe, opting for a soft natural palette of warm browns and woven textiles over the elegance of polished black leather. The versatility of Breuer chairs is well noted, leading to their popularity in applications ranging from business furniture to dining furniture.


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