Edward Barber and Jay Osgerby, with Isokon Plus, win the Bodleian Libraries Chair Competition

19 September 2013

Barber Osgerby chair

A chair designed by Edward Barber OBE and Jay Osgerby OBE with manufacturer Isokon Plus has been judged as the winner of the highly coveted Bodleian Libraries Chair Competition. The three-legged oak chair is a contemporary response to the brief which combines a strong sense of craft heritage, sculptural form and complex reader requirements. Over the next year, the chair will be developed to production standards for installation in the newly-refurbished Weston Library, part of the Bodleian Libraries, which will open its doors to readers in October 2014.

Richard Ovenden, Interim Bodley's Librarian, said: 'The Bodleian Libraries are delighted to be working with Edward Barber and Jay Osgerby / Isokon Plus to provide a new chair for our Weston Library project. The winning chair is characterised by a strong identity, creative approach, comfort and suitability for intense study and research. The competition was very strong and we would like to congratulate all shortlisted designers for their participation.'

The winning chair exemplifies Barber and Osgerby's deeply researched and intellectual approach to design. Early inspiration was drawn from their strong local knowledge of the Bodleian Library and cultural setting combined with the practice’s expertise drawn from research for previous chair designs – notably the Tip Ton chair for Vitra. The duo identified the rear view of the chair as critical to the concept of the design – this is the aspect that will be most visible when the chair is in situ. Thus a strong vertical timber, echoing the spines of books on shelves, forms one of the three legs that attaches to the sled base. The generous circular form of the seat frame is echoed in the armrest and sled base – producing a strong but remarkably light oak chair.

Edward Barber and Jay Osgerby have a highly successful 18-year history of working with Chris McCourt at Isokon Plus, commencing with Loop, a table that initiated the relationship and was the first new piece manufactured by Isokon Plus for over 40 years, the table is now in permanent museum collections at the V&A and New York’s Metropolitan museum. Since the early success of Loop, the partnership’s deep understanding and engagement with design has grown and other collaborations have followed including the notable ecclesiastical furniture designed for Portsmouth Cathedral.

Isokon is a legendary UK manufacturer set up in 1935 under the design direction of Marcel Breuer. It is particularly fitting then that the winning chair is destined to grace the Weston Library, designed by Sir Giles Gilbert Scott in the 1930s. The building, currently being remodelled by Wilkinson Eyre Architects, will create a state of the art facility for this world-renowned library, creating increased storage, public access and greatly improved facilities for readers.

Chair competition shortlist 

The final stage of the competition saw chairs by the partnerships of Matthew Hilton/SCP Ltd and AL_A (Amanda Levete Architects)/Herman Miller compete with the winning design in a rigorous judging process that involved a highly qualified panel of judges as well as readers from the Bodleian Libraries who will eventually work sitting on the winning design.

The designs, models and prototypes of runners up in the final stage of the competition; Matthew Hilton/SCP Ltd and AL_A (Amanda Levete Architects)/Herman Miller, as well as the other shortlisted participants; Hugo Eccles/Race Furniture, Michael Sodeau/Modus Furniture and t.n.a design studio/Benchmark, will be exhibited in a display at the V&A Museum in South Kensington from 13 September until 17 November 2013. The exhibit will give a unique insight into the process behind the development of chairs from the best in British-based design and manufacturing.

The winning design will be installed in the Weston Library in Autumn 2014. This is only the third new chair developed specifically for the Bodleian since 1756, and will join an illustrious group of historic chairs that have supported readers over centuries. This chair is testament to the Bodleian Libraries' continued commitment to creating well designed and highly considered environments for a most treasured asset, the reader.

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