The Evolutionary History of Office Chairs

Allison Guy
March 8th 2012

On the shortlist for the year's strangest book title, Jonathan Olivares' A Taxonomy of Office Chairs charts the "evolution" of chairs from the 1840s to the present day. The author explicitly uses the language of biological classification, opening with a quote from Baudrillard that describes consumer objects as reproducing species. Olivares notes that "I find it ironic and unnerving that our society cherishes, studies and documents the natural world, but keeps little track of the products that make up our predominant reality."

In his analysis, Olivares discovered that the individual components of chairs – bases, backs, and armrests – evolved independently. The gradual changes in the design of a chair don't mirror, for instance, the logical sequence of horse evolution, but more like something along the lines of bacterial conjugation, when whole genetic sequences can be swapped in and out. It's arguable whether the conceit is more than a useful metaphor, but it may be that chairs can join razors, phones and corporate logos as objects that appear to evolve like organisms.

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