Wallpaper* Chair Arch, V&A, London Design Festival 2009

Did any of you manage to catch much of the London Design Festival?

Wallpaper* Chair Arch - V&A - image is my own

Wallpaper* Chair Arch - V&A - image is my own

I was out of London for most of it so I had to cram in some action on the final two days! The Wallpaper* Chair Arch at the V&A on the Saturday (covered here) and Lee Broom on the Sunday.

The Wallpaper* Chair Arch was a visit which featured such things as reading up about Ercol chairs (resulting in a furniture-based twitter follow) and exploring bizarre Victorian practices. Apparently when one’s town was to be visited by esteemed dignitaries (the only high profile Victorians I can call to mind are the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood, Charles Dickens, Queen Victoria and Scott of the Antarctic, so my imaginary troupe of dignitaries are all of them at once) one built some sort of triumphal arch on the main street and covered it in whatever your town was famous for. One would imagine that this resulted in some hideous monstrosities – rotting fish arches in coastal areas, cheese arches in Somerset, beds in Bedford…

Anyway High Wycombe was famous for chairs (no, I didn’t know that either) so they had had a chair arch in 1877 much to the delight of Queen Vic and her entourage – who were probably sick of fish and cheese and other depressing export-based arches. – and it was this feat Wallpaper* decided to reproduce in the V&A. They were using Ercol chairs because Ercol was the firm who absorbed the original High Wycombe chair company which was run by the amazingly named Walter Skull. How wonderfully circular.

Marble Arch - John Nash - photo courtesy of wallyg

Marble Arch (example of traditional triumphal arch)- John Nash - photo courtesy of wallyg

The arch at the V&A was actually two overlapping arches, one of plain chairs, the other a spray painted chair rainbow and both were fairly sparkling in the sun in the Madjeski courtyard. The structure was an interesting study in modular construction and pleasing to the eyes, especially on a nice sunny day and it’s always a pleasure to find something extraordinary in the everyday but one only needed a brief visit to feel one had gained everything possible. The interesting part is the ongoing tradition of the triumphal arch.

Triumphal arches date back to classical architecture and commemorate greatness or, indeed, triumph. Generally these things were built following a war or the edict of a particularly narcissistic ruler, or to invoke the classical language of greatness blah blah nationalism but the use of the arch to celebrate an achievement in the arts was a refreshing change. The modest arc, the rainbow colours and the modular functionality imbue an age-old design staple with modern flavour.

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