BY RENATE MENZI
In the 1950s, not only product forms, but also the transition from functional forms to free forms became fluid. “Beauty as function,” as represented by Max Bill, became a design task. As a “harmonious organisation of the whole,” form was now meant not only to correspond to but also to express construction, material and purpose. The extent to which functional form could emancipate itself from its conventional shape and become a sculpture was the subject of heated debate. It could neither be sought nor stylised, but had to appear as self-evident as if it had evolved organically. In 1954, Willy Guhl created a design icon by moulding fibre cement for Eternit Ltd. into a single, endless loop. Simple, elegant and indestructible, Guhl’s Loop Chair (beach chair) adorned swimming pools and company offices; at Documenta 2 it was combined with a Picasso sculpture group.
As the founder of the interior design and product design class at Zurich School of Applied Arts (today’s ZHdK), Guhl had always been interested in new materials and industrial processes. By experimenting with wood, plaster and plastic, and through ergonomic studies on the ideal sitting profile, he continued to develop his chairs. In collaboration with various partners, a research project funded by the Swiss National Science Foundation (SNSF) sets out to explore Guhl’s particular design and teaching process –“Thinking with Hands.” To this end, the first sketches of the Loop Chair, photographs of prototypes, models, production forms, plans as well as Guhl’s lectures and travel photographs will be examined as documents of his design philosophy and made accessible to a wider audience in a forthcoming exhibition.