Oxford's Library Chooses Its First New Chair Design Since 1936

By Kelsey Campbell-Dollaghan on at

Oxford's Bodleian library—aka the Bod—is one of England's largest libraries, a 414-year-old research hub steeped in tradition and history. For example, only three types of chair have ever been used within its walls. Until now, that is: According to Co.Design, the library has chosen a fourth design to replace its older models.

Why is the Bod choosing to inaugurate a new chair now, 77 years after its last model was designed? Because one of its buildings is currently undergoing a major renovation—and each major revamp has seen the introduction of a new chair. In other words, it's tradition. After launching a UK-wide call for designs in 2012, the library whittled 60 entries down to six—and finally, they chose a winner: A three-legged wooden chair submitted by London designers Edward Barber and Jay Osgerby.

Barber and Osgerby's design is a response to a fascinating set of requirements. First of all, the Bod is primarily a reference library—which means that the way people work within it hasn't changed terribly much for centuries (there are no computers, for example, and no photocopying is allowed lest it damage the books). So the chair needed to be sturdy and absolutely silent (no moving parts!), but also allow 120 degree maneuverability for scholars working with rare and fragile books. That explains the low armrests and slight lip at the base, which will let readers rock gently forward. What's more, many readers will sit for as long as 12 hours—so ergonomics were key.

The new chairs won't arrive until next year, but it must be an amazing feeling to know that something you designed will likely be used for centuries to come. Co.Design has the full details of the design, or check out a small exhibit at the V&A Museum that showcases all of the models ever used at the Bod. [Co.Design; BBC]

Above, three of the shortlisted entries. Below, the winning design:

Oxford's Library Chooses Its First New Chair Design Since 1936