Parsons Students Create Dazzling Chairs for Roche Bobois

The winning project will be prototyped in Europe and presented in the Spring

Parsons MFA students Weiran Chen and George Plionis pose with their winning design.
Photo: Courtesy of Parsons School of Design
The Cairn stone chair, designed by Weiran Chen and George Plionis of Parsons’s MFA Industrial Design program. Photo: Courtesy of Parsons School of Design

Students often find themselves in the hot seat during exams, but students at New York’s Parsons School of Design recently found themselves actually designing seats for a competition sponsored by Roche Bobois.

This past fall, 16 pairs of students were given the brief to create “seats for eating” as part of the biannual Roche Bobois Design Award. The assignment asked them to explore “the cultural and historical rituals of resting, gathering, and nourishing the body.” The students exercised their ability to innovate by considering human behavior, fabrication techniques, and the brand identity of Roche Bobois. Since 2009, the furniture company has organized a design competition in a new country to discover promising young talent. This competition comes as a natural fit as the brand is known for partnering with emerging stars and pushing boundaries.

Nicolas Roche, creative director for Roche Bobois, speaking to Parsons students. Photo: Courtesy of Parsons School of Design

To create their chairs, students researched Roche Bobois designs both past and present. Additionally, they weighed the environmental and health impacts of the materials. The Making Center at Parsons—which includes multi-axis milling, multi-material 3D printing, automated weaving, and 3D automated knitting—gave them all the resources they needed to turn their concepts into prototypes.

A panel of judges, featuring Roche Bobois team members and brand collaborators, such as Rockwell Group’s Barry Richards and designer Stephen Burks, reviewed the student prototypes and graded them in a variety of categories. (The rubric included innovation and creativity, functionality, understanding of the Roche Bobois brand, commercial potential, and ecological responsibility.)

“Judging the competition was such a thrill,” says Barry Richards, principal and studio leader at Rockwell Group. “To see the students perform at such a high level and prepare such complete presentations, I was just blown away.”

The Plus One extendable chair in one seat format. Photo: Courtesy of Parsons School of Design
The Plus One extendable chair extended. Photo: Courtesy of Parsons School of Design

Two first place winners and one second place were chosen. Lorraine Chen and Po Yuan Wang, BFA Product Design, were awarded a winning prize for their transformable prototype, Plus One. In describing how they came up with the design, the pair said “extendable tables transform in different ways, so should chairs. Plus One is the chair that can always accommodate you and your plus one.”

The Plus One extendable chair designed by Lorraine Chen and Po Yuan Wang of Parsons’ BFA Product Design program won first place along with the Cairn stone chair. Photo: Courtesy of Parsons School of Design

Weiran Chen and George Plionis, MFA Industrial Design, were also named the winners for their prototype, Cairn. “The Cairn chair brings nature into the dining experience; like its namesake stone formation, it resonates and invites reflection, signifying a pathway home,” they said. “The Cairn chair becomes a landmark at the dining table, marking where family comes together.”

The Cairn stone chair designed by Weiran Chen and George Plionis of Parsons’ MFA Industrial Design program won first place along with the Plus One chair. Photo: Courtesy of Parsons School of Design

Liujingzi Jiang and Lee Chi-Hao, MFA Industrial Design, were named second-place winners for their prototype, Asy. “During dining, people have various sitting positions. Where people rest different parts of body caught our attention. We questioned why most chairs are symmetrical when the way people sit can be so unpredictable and asymmetrical.”

Second place was awarded to Liujingzi Jiang and Lee Chi-Hao of Parsons’s MFA Industrial Design program for the Asy yellow asymmetrical chair. Photo: Courtesy of Parsons School of Design

The winning project will be prototyped in Europe and presented during Roche Bobois’s internal Spring 2018 Market. All 16 designs will be on view at the brand’s Madison Avenue flagship during NYCxDESIGN Week, from May 11–23. That’s certainly one way for a talented young designer to get a seat at the table.

Asy yellow asymmetrical chair by Liujingzi Jiang and Lee Chi-Hao. Photo: Courtesy of Parsons School of Design