‘Begin with what’s leftover. Turn it into what will last.’
This seems to be the story of EMECO, an American furniture design company whose purpose is to turn waste materials into simple, useful, and timeless chairs. Collaborating with the world’s eminent architects and designers, they have churned out classics one after the other.
Their products are an amalgamation of immaculate design and ingenious engineering with more than a pinch of environmental sensitivity. Continually stretching the limits of creativity and material exploration, the company has created a legacy of outstanding furniture pieces.
Let us take a look at 10 of them.
It began as an ‘Electric Machine and Equipment Company’ in 1940 at Pennsylvania when the U.S.Navy handed in an assignment during World War 2. The brief was to make a lightweight and strong chair to withstand salty air, seawater, and heavy sailors. Upon fixing recycled aluminum as the choice of material, the 1006 Navy chair was created through a unique 77 step process. Sturdy. Smart. Durable. It set the tone for the company’s future designs and was aptly chosen as the company’s logo.
The chair that was once intended for warships and sailors was re-launched for the domestic market and eventually became an American icon.
Posed with an environmental problem of coca-cola PET bottles overflowing in landfills, Emeco proposed upcycling the consumer waste. The collection stands testimony to the innovative engineering success which took 4 long years of research, design, and testing. The colorful 111 navy chair is made from 65% (111 PET bottles) recycled plastic and 35% glass fiber.
3. Hudson chair: Emeco + Phillipe Starck
Hudson chair was made after a 50 year-long hiatus for the Hudson hotel, New York in 2000. Starck taught Emeco craftsmen a new skill – ‘hand polishing’ whilst working on recycled Aluminum. He described his intent for the design as ‘washing the details from the iconic Navy Chair’. Considered akin to a piece of art, this Hudson chair is a part of the Museum of modern art’s permanent collection.
4. Superlight chair: Emeco + Frank O Gehry
Impressed with the durability and toughness of the Hudson collection, 125 office rolling chairs were ordered by Gehry’s architectural office. As the story goes, Emeco’s owner Gregg personally delivered the chairs, met Gehry and this led to a collaboration. Comfort. Lightweight. Strength. Gehry achieved all three by integrating engineering and design. Weighing just 4.09 kg, the chair has a frame and a “skin” that fits onto the frame.
5. Tuyomyo (Spanish for “Yours and mine”: Emeco + Frank O Gehry
Combining CNC and aircraft technologies with traditional handcraft, this ‘sculptural’ bench was created after various stages of experimentation. Made of 80% recycled Aluminum, this bench reflects Gehry’s intuitive futuristic design vision as well as Emeco’s expertise in crafting Aluminum. The bench was auctioned off to benefit the Hereditary Disease Foundation and was also accepted into the Museum of Modern art’s permanent design collection.
6. On and on collection: Emeco + Barber & Osgerby
As the name suggests, the collection is made from r PET, a material that can be continually recycled and shows the brand’s commitment to the circular economy. The chair has been symbolically built around a circular seat that can be stacked rotationally to form spiral towers. All the colors in the range have been obtained naturally. The designers have balanced their technical know-how, innovative thinking, and poetry.
7. 20-06 chair: Emeco + Norman Foster
Sleek ’20-06’ chair was created by Foster’s studio by taking inspiration from the classic 1006 Navy chair. The chair uses 15 % less Aluminum as compared to the original Navy chair and even 80% of that metal is recycled Aluminum. The cold yet elegant 20-06 is strictly utilitarian, functional, and super strong.
8. Su collection: Emeco + Nendo
Emulating the Japanese aesthetic of ‘Su’ (meaning plain or unadorned), the stool is a ‘system rather than a single piece of furniture’. Highly flexible, the seat and legs are connected by a single screw. The interchangeable seats are made from recycled and reclaimed materials like reclaimed barn wood, eco-concrete, recycled plastic, cork, Aluminum. The contour on the seat is a replica of the iconic seat of Emeco chairs.
9. 1 Inch All Aluminum: Emeco + Jasper Morrison
Aiming to be age-proof, weather-proof, and trend-proof, this collection looks deceptively simple. The chair, armchair, and stools from this range are built by hand from recycled Aluminum through Emeco’s unique 77-step process. The furniture pieces derive their name from the single frame made from the one-inch extruded Aluminum tube. The makers have admitted to having underestimated the complication of bending square Aluminum tubes in more than one plane simultaneously. Extremely strong and light-weight, the range embodies Morrison’s design sensibility and Emeco’s values of timeless simplicity.
10. 1951: Emeco + BMW Design Group
The ‘1951’ range is an attempt at revitalizing the classic aluminum design of a long-lost Emeco chair originally built for navy hospitals in 1950. The designers have redefined and reinterpreted it for a new era. It is the first Emeco product to combine new materials like r PET for the seat and back. This has allowed the addition of colors, simplification in manufacturing, and reduction of cost.