OBJECT LESSON

INTRODUCING BRUTUS & CLUSTER

Some of the most innovative, powerful design takes its strength from its sculptural elements. In certain cases it is a sense of fragility that offers impact – the tapered leg and lightness of Gio Ponti’s Superleggera, for instance. At other times it is the imposing, muscular heft of the object that strikes a chord: A strong sense of presence. There have been many influential pieces of design from the last 100 years that have come from a utilitarian place – often conceived as something that must be mass produced, and produced to last indefinitely. That doesn’t necessarily mean the entry-level carpentry of IKEA or Muji, or even the Artek 60 stool. When Pierre Jeanneret was creating the furniture for the planned city of Chandigarh in northern India in the 1950s, part of his brief was to provide chairs that could be made from locally sourced materials, and withstand the wear and tear inherent to busy government buildings, as well as intense humidity. The chairs he created, from teak and split cane, with scissor-shaped legs, have a bold and suitably institutional feel to them. Like wearing a heavy country brogue, there is little that is subtle about them, but that is where their beauty lies – they are solid, chunky and indeed… brutal.

Much of Charlotte Perriand’s work shares the same kind of beauty. The winter 2019 exhibition at Fondation Louis Vuitton in Paris – ‘Charlotte Perriand: Inventing a New World’ – flagged up pieces that shared spaces with both Jeanneret and his cousin Le Corbusier. The three individuals breathed the same air, and often worked towards the same goals. Certain objects – including the LC14 Tabouret Cabanon Chestnut from 1952, which is essentially a simple, easily transportable block to sit on – are attributed to all three of them. The LC14 is a Brutalist classic. There is a line to be drawn between it, and the BassamFellows Cluster Stool, developed for use at the Starbucks Reserve Roastery in Manhattan in 2018. The Cluster is a simple, easy to move object for sitting on, and it stacks neatly away without the need to be hidden. A group of Clusters looks “on purpose”, and pleasing to the eye. It belongs to a canon of utilitarian, Modernist stools, including Perriand’s Tabouret Berger Stool, from 1953, that looks like the kind of ultra-functional object you may find in a Japanese onsen – a design that may have existed unchanged for centuries. It is stark, but the dip in the seat and the rounded taper of its three legs is elegant and sculptural.

The new BassamFellows Brutus chair, launching in Milan in 2020, has its roots in the powerful Modernist vernacular of Perriand and Jeanneret, but is softer and visually lighter. It emphasizes certain sculptural elements, elevating visual aspects evident in much Brutalist design, but updated with an organic smoothness. It is more “cut” than it is “built”, and its shape looks like it has been weathered naturally and then manipulated – the silhouette of the back suggests a giant shell that has been machined to create a striking squared-off hole in the center. The back and seat look like a single sculptural element, the horizontal and vertical planes meeting with pleasing curves. The Vienna caning of the seat in some examples of the chair (others are upholstered with suspension webbing) draws a line back to 1950s Chandigarh, and contributes to the visual and physical lightness of the object. Like Jeanneret’s work in India, the Brutus chair is something strong and solid, but in this case perspective is everything – the legs are elliptical, tapering down from the seat to the floor, and shaped like a rounded shark’s fin, so they look broad from one angle, and remarkably thin from another. As with the BassamFellows Tractor Stool, the legs are inserted directly into the seat with a large tenon.

Brutus and Cluster are designs for 2020, when the Brutalist tendencies of Le Corbusier et al are again in the collective consciousness of the design world. They are designs with personality – “kawaii” as the Japanese say. “Chairs are not just utilitarian objects, they have to have personality, they have to be loved,” says Craig Bassam. Remarkably, the idea for Brutus came from a dream that designer Craig Bassam had – he woke at 3am one morning and sketched out Brutus in significant detail. It came from something subconscious, and appeared fully realized on paper. It is a design shaped by instinct.


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Le Corbusier’s Notre-Dame-du-Haut was one of several brutalist buildings that served as inspiration for the new Brutus Chair.

Pierre Jeanneret, who took over from Le Corbusier as Chandigarh’s chief architect, was passionate about creating furniture that echoed the style and ethos of the surrounding architecture.

Like wearing a heavy country brogue, there is little that is subtle about Jeanneret’s chairs, but that is where their beauty lies – they are solid, chunky and indeed… brutal.

FILM STILL FROM PROVENANCE

Jeanneret created furniture throughout Chandigarh on a large scale. For goverment buildings, schools, hospitals, labs, cafeterias, and even for private residences.

FILM STILL FROM PROVENANCE

Jeanneret, Perriand and Le Corbusier all collaborated on the LC14 Tabouret Cabanon – a Brutalist classic.

Charlotte Perriand’s Tabouret Berger and Tabouret Méribel Stools, from 1953, look like the kind of ultra-functional objects you may find in a Japanese onsen – designs that may have existed unchanged for centuries.

Perriand’s Rio coffee table from 1962. The table is made up of six wedge sections, misaligned and of different radiuses. Here in cane and and natural oak.

The new BassamFellows Brutus chair, launched in Milan in early 2020.

MARCO FAVALI

The design emphasizes certain sculptural elements, elevating visual aspects evident in much Brutalist design, but updated with an organic smoothness.

MARCO FAVALI

Brutus is more “cut” than it is “built”, and its shape looks like it has been weathered naturally and then manipulated.

MARCO FAVALI

The BassamFellows Cluster Stool, developed for use at the Starbucks Reserve Roastery in Manhattan.

MARCO FAVALI

Brutus’ legs are elliptical, tapering down from the seat to the floor, and shaped like a rounded shark’s fin.

MARCO FAVALI

The back and seat look like a single sculptural element, the horizontal and vertical planes meeting with pleasing curves.

MARCO FAVALI

One version of the chair includes slim leather upholstery supported by suspension webbing for comfort.

MARCO FAVALI

The Cluster Stool is a simple,easy to move object for sitting on, and it stacks neatly away without the need to be hidden.

MARCO FAVALI

The Brutus Chair is something strong and solid, but in this case perspective is everything.

MARCO FAVALI

The Vienna caning of the seat in some examples of the chair draws a line back to 1950s Chandigarh.

MARCO FAVALI

The silhouette of the back suggests a giant shell that has been machined to create a striking squared-off hole in the center.

MARCO FAVALI

Cluster belongs to a canon of utilitarian, Modernist stools.

LEAD IMAGE

The Brutus chair has its roots in the powerful Modernist vernacular of modern masters like Perriand, Jeanneret and Le Corbusier, but is softer and visually lighter.

Photography Marco Favali

MARCO FAVALI