When Teshia Treuhaft MFA 14 FD spoke as RISD’s representative at the 2014 Design
Indaba Conference, a major international
gathering for design leaders in Cape Town, South Africa, she focused on her
ongoing research into a seemingly simple yet complex question: What does a
chair need to be?
In her talk last February – and the recently released video
summarizing it – the recent graduate of the master’s program in Furniture
Design spoke about how and why she turned to a classically trained dancer
to better understand our physical relationship with seating.
“Furniture designers understand their bodies in a very particular
way,” Treuhaft says, noting that she chose to work with a dancer in order to
push beyond her own assumptions about the human need to sit. “I gave her [the
dancer] different verbs, phrases and adverbs, which she used to create gestures
that dealt with motion and posture,” the designer explains.
Given the dancer’s heightened awareness of expressive movement and
the body’s relationship to space, Treuhaft was inspired to “use her body and
create an object around it” rather than focus on designing a particular object
first. In other words, in a departure from her usual methodology of starting
with a concept that gets refined through the design process, she began by
mapping out a series of gestures and movements proposed by the dancer. This
provided a provocative means of rethinking the way humans interact with objects
Although Treuhaft was initially drawn to furniture design as
an exploration of form and materials, she says she quickly realized
that her interests go beyond aesthetics. It’s the exploration
of ergonomics and anthropometrics – the study of the human body and its
movement – that now drives her practice. And thanks to support from the RISD
2050 Fund, this summer she’s in
Berlin exploring alternative educational paradigms as she researched a project called Hacking Our Educational Spaces.
At RISD Treuhaft co-developed a course called Rethinking Seating in which students are urged to go beyond the
traditional formula of combining a seat plus back plus three or four legs. What
happens, for example, when you design a chair without a seat? Can you design a comfortable,
useful chair that supports people in a standing position or seated on the
Among the assignments in the course is one in which students sit
in various chairs and draw their experience of it at full scale. They then swap
chairs and sketch over each others’ drawings to see if any patterns emerge.
“There is this divergence between what you understand as the
volumes, shapes and components of the object and the realm of embodied
knowledge,” Treuhaft explains. And going beyond the traditional components
to really rethink what a chair needs to be can be thoroughly liberating, she
“We start rebuilding knowledge about how you can incorporate a
social interaction or an emotional relationship to add another layer to the
concept,” Treuhaft says. And that, she believes, is key to creating meaningful
objects of value to contemporary life.
tags: Furniture Design
, Graduate Studies