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 designed for use inside it’s walls. Until now, that is, with the library having chosen a fourth design to replace its older models.
It has been 77 years since a new chair design has been introduced at the Bodleian but it has been a tradition that if any of its buildings is undergoing a major renovation then a new chair is introduced.
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 manoeuvrability 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. The V&A Museum has a small exhibit showcasing all of the models ever used at the Bod.