Throughout history design has put sitting as the lead priority within a workspace, but how is this affecting our health? Medical research suggests that a sedentary lifestyle can lead to poor health. Armed with this evidence architects at Rietveld Architecture-Art Affordances (RAAAF) and visual artist Barbara Visser have responded with an innovative project entitled ‘The End of Sitting’ that revolutionizes the office space as we know it. They have come up with a ‘work landscape’ - an experimental installation exploring the possible new face of the workplace environment, without chairs.
Author: Siphilele Magagula
Image: Courtesy of Jan Kempenaers via Dezeen
Is The Chair Our Enemy?
Every culture has their own traditional seating which forms its cultural identity. Ancient egyptians saw the chair as a status symbol. Chairs with backs and armrests were exclusive to the elite, while the greeks prided themselves with the elegantly designed klismos chair, which was not reserved for higher society alone. The chair has become a globalized object as it has infiltrated many cultures all over the world. In Asia and many parts of Africa where chairs were a rarity - people sat on the floor or on sitting mats. The earliest Chinese chair has been traced back to 6th century bhuddist murals. An example of early African chairs are the Ghanaian Asante (Ashanti) stools which were said to be built for practical and spiritual purposes, with each chair design denoting its designated user.
Image 1: Ancient Egypt - King Tutankaman’s throne - Courtesy of Flickr;
Image 2: Greek Klismos chair - courtesy of National Gallery of Art;
Image 3: 12th century Chinese chair - courtesy of Wikipedia;
Image 4: Mma Dwa women’s stool of the Asante (Ashanti) of Ghana
In our society, almost the entirety of our surroundings have been designed for sitting. Chairs are a functional element and an integral part of work culture, they support the body, allowing the mind can focus. They are also a primary feature in: schools, entertainment spaces and offices. The chair also serves as an important symbol of modern society’s shift from manual labour to a white-collar job market and has been constantly re-designed throughout history to become more aesthetically appealing and ergonomic to allow prolonged comfort while carrying out tasks.
But the chair has fallen from grace and are now more considered as threats to populations’ physical and mental health. Recent studies show that physical inactivity is the fourth leading risk factor for global mortality. Scientists even call it - the sitting disease. The human body was designed to move and although you may be thinking daily exercise makes up for sitting at your desk for eight hours a day, that is a misconception...you are still subject to the negative impact of too much sitting. Perhaps the solution is to eliminate sitting entirely? But what would an office with no chairs look like?
‘The End of Sitting’ an Adaptive Body Experience, Reshaping The Work Landscape
The End of Sitting is a installation ‘at the crossroads of visual art, architecture, philosophy and empirical science.’ The project, exhibited in 2015, was a collaboration between Dutch architects RAAAF and fine artists Barbara Visser - challenges the importance of a chair in the future office environment. "Chairs and tables are redesigned over a million times. But what if there are no chairs anymore and you would like to afford people standing working positions? [...] We ignored the chair and table for a moment and aimed at creating a workplace which tempts people to work standing upright, first of all, but, moreover, encourages them to change positions continuously throughout the day,” says Erik Rietveld, co-founder of RAAF.
The transition of the workspace from sitting to the End of Sitting. | Left image - courtesy of Kilmer House - 1940; | Right Image - courtesy of Jan Kempenaers via Dezeen
The End of Sitting Work Landscape has been exhibited at Looiersgracht 60 a new space for art and science in Amsterdam.
Images courtesy of Jan Kempenaers via Dezeen
This experimental installation is a maze-like modular structure with angled molds that create a landscape of supports that allow workers of any height to explore different standing and leaning positions - encouraging a range of motion within the landscape.
Video courtesy of Landstra en de Vries
Potential Effects: Comfortability & Productivity
The installation’s structure is based on a research in the human body and body movement, deciphering what is deemed as comfortable vs. uncomfortable for humans. This workspace creates possibilities for different body positions such as upright leaning which is said to engage the muscles and prevent fat-burning enzymes from dropping.
With no fixed desks, workers would be more active and have the freedom to roam from one section of the ‘work landscape’ to another, which would facilitate organic interactions, collaborations and spark creativity. Each design component can be grouped together to form different spaces to the fit different tasks, providing flexibility and giving workers a sense of agency within their own environment.
The End of Sitting is at this point an experiment that encourage us to think outside of established conventions. As it seems that standing desk are becoming more popular in offices, staunch chair supporters such as architect Witold Rybczynski believes that standing should not replace sitting in the workplace, stating that the popular standing desks are doing more harm than good (back and leg pain, heart disease, etc.).
With the concept of ‘affordance’, RAAF reminds us that one uniformed object should not replace another but the role of designers is to offer to users’ a large range of options to accommodate their needs.