MIT Students Find Valuable Lessons in Chair-Making

The realm of design at MIT encompasses various fields and departments, serving as a flexible mode of exploration. Whether it’s software, furniture, robotics, or consumer goods, design courses at MIT lead students through the iterative process of brainstorming, organizing, and building prototypes.

“Design involves 80 percent problem-setting and 20 percent problem-solving,” explains MIT Professor Larry Sass SM ’94, PhD ’00, a designer and researcher in the Department of Architecture. While the term “problem-setting” in other MIT classes may evoke thoughts of weekly math problems, in design courses, it entails defining the requirements and functionalities that require an efficient solution.

Responsible for teaching course 4.500 (Design Computation), Sass focuses on integrating computational tools like 3D modeling, rendering, and animation in the design process. Centered around the chair as an object within the architectural realm, 4.500 delves into the creation and interaction with such a tangible entity.

Chairs serve as an instructive tool, presenting a targeted and complex task for aspiring designers. With their unique and instinctive purpose of providing comfort, chairs come in various forms that cater to different experiences, from a momentary break to extended relaxation. Designers view the chair as a significant piece at the crossroads of beauty and utility, making meticulous design choices that shape its visual and tactile appeal.

According to Sass, “A chair serves as an ideal subject for honing design skills.” He emphasizes the challenge of designing chairs, applicable to designers working on both micro and macro scales, from intricate instruments to towering structures. A well-crafted chair, in Sass’s view, should be “sturdy, cost-effective, and delightful.”

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