At first glance, the Dream Chair looks like a concept, with impossible curves and a seemingly precarious structure that appears as if it could only exist in a 3D rendering. Yet the Danish manufacturer Carl Hansen & Søn took Tadao Ando's dream and made it reality with a chair that stands as a feat of both manufacturing and fantasy.
The project originated with Carl Hansen & Søn (CHS). Looking to create a tribute to the great Danish furniture designer Hans Wegner, CHS approached Ando to develop a design for a lounge chair. "I have been an admirer of Wegner's craftsmanship for many years," the Pritzker Prize–winning Japanese architect said in a press release. "This was new to me, as in the past I have been used to only selecting furniture for the buildings I have created over the years."
During their first meeting in Japan, CHS informed Ando of some of the restrictions of working with wood and veneer, which he wrote in his memo book, and then waited for him to bring back his first concepts. "When we saw the first sketches and drawings, we knew that to make this chair would be one of the biggest challenges that we have ever faced in Carl Hansen & Søn," says Knud Erik Hansen, third generation owner and CEO of Carl Hansen & Son. "Not only was the chair large, but the bending of the veneer was designed beyond what had ever been made." Ando's vision required that CHS turn to 3D-veneer technology, which is becoming the industry standard for bending complex forms. New to manufacturing, 3D veneer is achieved by cutting standard wood veneer into tiny strips. With this technology CHS were able to bend the complex angles of the Dream Chair... to a point. "It goes without saying that Mr. Ando exceeded those 'endorsed' points," Hansen says.
Perfecting the shell of the chair took much longer than expected, pushing the limits of 3D-veneer manufacturing to bend its nine solid layers of veneer. Imported from Scandinavia and Germany, the veneer is cut down to 1,350-by-980-millimeter sheets before being glued together and formed in an aluminum mold with heat canals.
The making of the mold was one of the most crucial parts of the process, Hansen says. Anyone who has worked with aluminum knows the steep price for the metal, so creating molds of such size and stature required a significant investment. "Not knowing whether we would be able to make the chair at all—it was with shaking hands that the casting forms were ordered from Germany," Hansen says.
The evolution of the Dream Chair. (Click the image to view a larger version.)The evolution of the Dream Chair. (Click the image to view a larger version.)
After numerous iterations, the CHS staff became experts in making the shell to a quality acceptable to both parties. Then discussions turned to crafting the unresolved base of the chair out of metal, a suggestion that Ando firmly rejected. This left the CHS carpenters and technicians to continue working on the veneer model over the course of another year of design, prototyping and testing. The final base matches the slim profile of the seat shell (albeit with 21 layers of veneer instead of nine). Ando approved of the final result immediately after seeing it constructed.
Ando's initial design had called for the base and seat be one continuous piece of veneer. When that proved to be impossible, CHS mounted the base and shell together using four stainless steel tubes—a frequent material choice for CHS because of its lasting quality and weight capacity.
Now CHS produces the Dream Chair in oak and American walnut veneer in either a lacquered or an oiled finish. The chair can also be upholstered in leather or fabric.