BERLIN — The sight of a swing causes not only children, but also many adults, to impulsively sit down, push off with their feet and swing back and forth for as long as possible.
This very impulse was a stroke of luck for Oliver-Selim Boualam and Lukas Marstaller, when the management of the Cologne Furniture Trade Fair prohibited visitors from using their black steel swing exhibit, citing insurance reasons. This allowed the Karlsruhe-based designers to focus on explaining their concept to trade fair attendees, rather than on acting like primary school teachers looking after students in the school yard during recess.
Swings are of interest to designers not only because they are toys, but also because they provide seating without legs. In addition, they are not rooted to the spot, but create a certain dynamic by simply floating in space. Polish designer Iwona Kosicka developed a reinvention of what is probably the world's most famous hanging seat — Eero Aarnios' 1960s "Bubble Chair," a Perspex hemisphere suspended by a chain from the ceiling — with her own version, called "Swing."
"Swing" is, in principle, just a wooden hoop that has been broadened in its designated seating area. To the designer, however, it symbolizes a combination "of childlike enthusiasm and elegance." Two of these chairs are to be found at the Red Bull offices in Stockholm.
Swinging makes you happy because it creates a state that oscillates between weightlessness and gravity. Its movement is a gentle up and down and forwards and backwards, while the action of swinging itself alternates between soft rocking and reckless swaying.
Eero Aarnios' iconic "Bubble Chair" — Photo: Hans B./GFDL
Karin Schmidt-Ruhland, professor of Gaming and Educational Design at the Burg Giebichenstein University of Art and Design Halle, claims to understand why swinging is important for both children and adults.
"It is fun, and it gives your body awareness and sensory and special orientation a work out. Your body is moving, as is the world around you. It creates self-confidence and courage," she says.
She also notes that a swing's design is very simple, as "it is actually made up of just a plank and rope. Two holes are drilled into either end of the plank to stabilize the swing. That's all there is to it."
The courage to go higher and higher and, for the more advanced swing aficionado, to let go at the height of the arc and be catapulted into nothingness. By now, it is well-known that swinging not only makes children happy, but also cultivates their intelligence, seeing as the swinging motion stimulates their sense of balance and thereby supports their motor skills development, which is intrinsically linked to cognitive development.
In Cologne, trade fair visitors curiously circle the object titled "As High As Best," probably asking themselves how comfortable the u-shaped steel tube, with its seat and handle combo, really is. After all, they aren't allowed to test it.
"It is much more comfortable than you would think at first glance," says Boualam, who, together with his partner Marstaller, is known under the pseudonym of "Butternutten AG" (Butter Whores Inc.) and is something between an artist and a designer.
"As High As Best" — Photo: kkaarrllss
"As High As Best" is part of a project that saw a kiosk, situated at the last stop of the Karlsruhe S-Bahn train line No. 5, redeveloped by the designers, who created this piece of furniture specifically for the space. They fastened 16 hanging chairs to the ceiling around the octagonal room.
"We had envisaged a stay of 15 minutes per person because the space is always in flux, but people actually spent up to an hour on the swings," Boualam says.
The swing played with people's tendency to use improvised seating in public spaces, proving them with a concrete and dynamic shape.
It's nice to think that in the future, all S-Bahn, U-Bahn and bus stops could be fitted with swings. Boualam and Marstaller's steel tube design was developed to allow for uncomplicated large scale production. Unfortunately, however, the current limited edition counts just 20 pieces, and the designers are still looking for a manufacturer.