chairs in plywood by Alvar Aalto

Through the 1930s the Finnish architect Alvar Aalto designed a number of chairs that had a shaped seat in plywood. One of the earliest designs, Chair 23 produced in 1929, had a simple tubular metal frame that supported the simple plywood seat but, as the designs became more sophisticated and more complicated in form, Aalto used a bentwood frame that was again, for many of the chairs, cantilevered. 

One of the chairs that went into production was Armchair 41 from 1932 that Aalto designed for the tuberculosis sanatorium in Paimio.  These chairs were strong, stable, relatively light - so they could be moved onto the balconies where patients could sit in the sun - provided good support and were low with the sitting position slightly reclined and of course without upholstery they were seen to be more hygienic because they were relatively easy to clean. 

Their simple construction also meant that they could be manufactured in a workshop with no cabinet making skills. That did not mean that the chairs were crude or unsophisticated but the form came directly from the materials ... note that the shaped seats were generally held into the frame with a tab or ear of the cut plywood set into a long, narrow slot cut into the bent birch frame.


Note: photograph of chair from back and detail of the arm from abelsloane1934 *

Armchair 403 also from 1932 is a dining chair or desk chair with four legs both using a similar plywood seat to the metal-framed chair. The wood frame has slightly angled legs with a cross bar and an arm rest across the top that has a joint cut like a basic version of the comb with veneer layers at the top of the leg of the Stool 60 designed the following year.

Armchair 42 and Armchair 402 also designed in 1932 were cantilevered chairs and both low and rather long from front to back. The most striking feature of all these chairs is the silhouette.



 The 1934 site has good photographs of original pieces and, unusually, good details of construction. Well worth checking out.