This post documents the making of what the Fisher ARCHitecture team believes to be the world’s first radiant heated glass chair.
The glass of this Fisher Architecture designed zero energy house, “the Irwin Studio”, actually heats the interior! Kittanning glass manufacturer, Frank Dlubak, who also developed the glass for the White House and the Getty Museum, supplied the windows. He calls his invention, “transparent insulation”.
It occurred to me that this glass would make awesome furniture. Heating air is inefficient. Radiant furniture would use astonishingly little energy yet effectively heat the human body even when the surrounding space is cool.
This was my first design. Because glass is formed in sheets, and ductile when heated, the ribbon concept seemed to make sense. But when the folks I showed it to found the idea of a plug-in electric chair a bit disturbing, we resolved to move ahead with battery power.
Here was my second design, with a battery compartment built into the base. Why glass? Glass is clear, moldable, conductive, colorful, inexpensive, and long-lasting! Which is all good until you calc the weight. Despite its minimal design, version two weighed in at close to ninety pounds.
And here is the third design iteration. At this time we were using busbars to distribute the heat. How does it work? When a tiny DC current is introduced to two copper strips located along opposite edges of the seat and back, a thin film of conductive material radiates heat.
Frank and I need a client. When I pitched the idea to California furniture heavyweight, Henry Hall, with whom I had worked a couple times, he expressed interest and agreed to sponsor the design development.
But then we learned that we couldn’t make the batteries work with the bus bars. Using wired radiant heat instead, like on the back of your car, would allow us to power the chair for up to three hours nightly with four rechargable D batteries for less than $5.00/mo!
So our next task became to map the way the human body would rest on the chair. Architects like Stan Allen, whose work you see on the right, have recently developed new ways of “notating” design information in order to reveal aspects of architecture that are not readily apparent to the eye.
If we could learn for ourselves the way our bodies touched the chair, we would then know how to devise the most efficient wire layout. “Yves Klein”, whose work you see above, came to mind. That was when we decided to order some body paint from a tasteful online retailer…
In 1960, Yves Klein once staged his work in front of an incredulous French audience as a live orchestra played. Famously, his nude models plunged themselves into paint and then rubbed up against the white canvases, painting them with their bodies.
I truly hoped to avoid that kind of spectacle. You can be the judge of whether our ends justified the means, pun intended. This is a photograph of the first chair prototype, sitting in my home/office.
Here we have covered the chair with a sheet of brown craft paper, with the chair edges carefully marked. When Chatham interior architecture graduate, Kathryn Taylor, volunteered to be our model, the rest of breathed a silent sigh of relief.
And here is architectural studies student, Jared Andrzejewski’s photo of Colombian architect, Ines Yupanqui, carefully painting Kathryn’s back. You can just make out sculptor, Dee Brigg’s work is visible in the background.
Over a two-hour period as it snowed outside, we tried a variety of poses: slumping, upright, cross-legged, and to-the-side.
Here is Kathryn laying among the completed prints, sacrificed on the altar of my exaggerated professional expectations. The self-painted text on her stomach reads, “FisherArch RG1”, short for, “Radiant Glass 1”. After this experience, she decided she was moving to Dubai. Really…
Here are the sheets drying in my lobby. A certain special friend of mine suggested that my clients might find the images a bit provocative, so we took them down after a couple of days.
These are a couple of Ines’ first sketches. The rules were simple: 1/4″ spacing typical, each line had to be continuous, and, similar to Ghostbusters, the paths could not cross. I’m learning how a quasi-rational generative process can create unexpected results. It’s liberating. Just ask Maya Lin.
The analytic pattern on the left resembles an Op Art silhouette. The organic pattern to the right brings to mind thumbprints, or perhaps uncooked hamburger. Although our initial MSRP will be $900.00, we are optimistic the price will fall quickly as production ramps up!
So my thought was to put this audience to use as part of an impromptu focus group. Who prefers the one on the right? Who likes the one on the left? Please let me know. Thanks!