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  3. The Return of the Grand Prix

The Return of the Grand Prix

In the 1940s, Fritz Hansen experimented with steam bending plywood, which caught the attention of the young architect, Arne Jacobsen. Jacobsen normally designed his furniture for a specific purpose, but in 1952, he developed the three-legged Ant - for no other reason than a desire to make an all purpose chair that was easy to stack. This was a chair with a moulded, double curved seat and back element, in one complete piece which, with a light spring in the back, felt both comfortable and secure. 

The Ant proved itself to be Denmark's first real piece of industrial furniture, but at first, Fritz Hansen was not interested in producing the chair. It required major investment in new production machinery, and the manufacturer did not believe it would sell. When Jacobsen turned up with an advance order for 400 chairs for the canteen of Danish healthcare company Novo Nordisk, he was able to convince his manufacturer of the product's potential.

Arne Jacobsen continued to develop the Ant chair, and in 1955, the Series 7 was launched. It had the same self-supporting plywood seat shell and pre-assembled frame of chrome plated legs, but the seat and back were wider, and the new chair was equipped with four legs instead of three to ensure greater stability.

The Finest Distinction

In 1957, one more chair was launched along the same principles. The 3130 chair was introduced at the Designer's Spring Exhibition at the Design Museum of Art & Design in Copenhagen. The chair got its nickname later that year while on show at the Triennale in Milan, when it received the Grand Prix - the finest distinction of the exhibition.

A number of new types of glue had recently been developed that made it possible to glue larger pieces together than previously. Jacobsen exploited this technical triumph to construct a new edition of his steel chair, now with wooden legs as well as seat, and with more defined shape to the back. He saw the chair as an alternative to the first two chairs, which with their steel legs had a rather colder and more industrial expression.

In order to make the new chair's legs appear more slender, he shaved arched lines into the circular legs, so that a section at a right angle to the central line of the legs shows a surface that could almost be a triangle. When the chair first came on the market, the four legs were laminated from 31 layers of veneer. The grooves in the legs' two outside edges ended where the legs reached the bottom of the seat, so that the glued surface on the flat part of the legs could be as large as possible.

The original Grand Prix did not achieve the same level of success or sales figures as either the Ant or the Series 7. This was partly because it was so complicated and expensive to produce, but also due to problems with its construction, which proved to be fragile - the legs broke off too easily, and the chair was taken out of production

New production methods today have made it possible to produce the Grand Prix chair's frame in one piece, which is attached to the bottom of the seat in a circular shape - in exactly the same way as both the Ant and the Series 7. This has improved the chair's construction considerably, making it far sturdier.

This season, Fritz Hansen reintroduce the Grand Prix 4130 with wooden legs which is available in Oak, Walnut or a choice of 9 coloured Ash veneers.

Click to view:
The Ant Chair
The Series 7 Chair
The Grand Prix 3130

Article Source: Katrine Martensen Larsen for Republic of Fritz Hansen


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