"Chairs can emphasise a person’s characteristics. There are chairs that you think are beautiful and that make you more beautiful as a result. Our design becomes part of a person, just like a piece of clothing. That’s the fascinating thing about it."
Elmar and Frederik Flötotto
in a conversation with
The starting point for the PRO project at Flötotto was the idea of getting back into producing school furniture. Following two years in development, a universal chair collection has been created that can be used in many different situations. How did you get to this point?
Elmar Flötotto: Following the acquisition of the FLÖTOTTO trademark rights by Elmar Flötotto Holding, and after several discussions with customers, suppliers and opinion formers, our conversations since 2008 have kept on coming back to the subject of the legendary Flötotto school chair. As the product rights were owned by third parties who managed them but did not develop them further, it was clear to us that we needed to set an example. We wanted to, once again, start producing the innovative chair for the educational sector at Flötotto. We weren’t planning then at the start of it all that an even larger project would develop out of this later.
Frederik Flötotto: Something that gave us confidence in what we were doing was a report published by Thomas Bärnthaler in Süddeutsche Zeitung Magazin in spring 2010 entitled ‘Versetzung gefährdet’ (‘in danger of failing’), in which he took a critical view of the interior design of German schools with some extremely negative findings. He called for a design that would help to solve the problem. We were already in the process of development and this gave us the sense that we were on the right track.
Did you think of commissioning Konstantin Grcic as the designer for this project straightaway?
Elmar Flötotto: We of course grappled with the issue of design right from the start. Who could combine all the required functions in one chair? Who would be able to manage the reduction? Who had the feel for such a complex task? My son Frederik and I thought about it briefly and, for us, there was only one designer that could do all this: Konstantin Grcic. He was the only person we asked and he agreed to do it.
Konstantin Grcic: I think the school furniture project is exciting and I was immediately inspired to start tackling this issue. I had the feeling that, with an open mind and a critical design approach, we could really have an impact here. We saw that there was an opportunity with PRO to develop a truly useful and contemporary chair.
What was so interesting about the idea of developing school furniture?
Konstantin Grcic: I was particularly interested in the typology of this kind of furniture – there are of course some very nice old school chairs that haven’t lost any of their charm over the years. When it comes to school furniture, there are many standards and conditions that need to be met. You have to work in accordance with strict safeguards, which often leads to furniture being too ‘smart’ and losing its attraction.
What challenges did the company have to overcome during the development process?
Konstantin Grcic: We studied scientific findings in the field of school furniture very intensively. Over the past few years, there have been various studies relating to school furniture, but the market hasn’t yet reacted to them, which is why we wanted to – and felt we had to – react to them. The core issue that these early studies were concerned with was: ‘How can furniture help to improve children’s willingness to learn?’ Today, we know that concentration is promoted by dynamic sitting, i.e. freedom of movement and the ability to move around.
What effect did these results have?
Elmar Flötotto: Our reaction to these findings can be seen in the end result: excellent design, superb comfort and the way in which the chair can be used in various room situations. PRO can be used anywhere – in schools, in commercial properties and in living spaces.
Konstantin Grcic: Our seat shell incorporates these latest findings – for example with its circular sitting area that permits movement in all directions. The narrower backrest enables sideways movements. Thanks to its flexibility and S-shaped curve, it gives a little when you lean back but still provides good support. The shape of the new shell has something friendly, soft and positive about it. In a school context, it is a suitable shell for a school chair. But even outside school it doesn’t remind you of school – we’ve achieved a balance here, and one that has occurred very naturally. In comparison to other school chairs, PRO is lighter and more contemporary. In my opinion, the ‘school chair’ has undergone an update.
Why has Pagwood not been used? Flötotto has had much success with this material.
Konstantin Grcic: Pagwood is an interesting material that is very robust. However, it doesn’t offer much in the way of creative leeway because you can only shape it in two dimensions as is typically the case with moulded wood. Right from the start, we tried to develop and manufacture an affordable and thereby competitive chair – using a material that offers all those possibilities. This meant that, at a certain point, the project gravitated naturally towards using plastic injection moulding, although making that decision meant that the tool costs would be considerably higher.
The Flötotto family supported this decision, which impressed me and showed me how much they believe in the project. We intensively researched possibilities for non-fossil-fuel plastics, but found that the kind of material we needed for our specific requirements is developed using high-pressure processes and isn’t available as a mass-produced material. Thanks to the intelligent extremely three-dimensional shape, we have managed to construct the seat shell in such a way that we could make it from 100% pure polypropylene – i.e. without fibreglass additives.
Frederik Flötotto: The concept of sustainable production is very important to us. We want to be seen by our customers as an innovative brand and this, of course, includes an efficient manufacturing process and sustainable interaction with materials and resources. At our production location, we produce all the necessary electricity required for manufacture from our own photovoltaic plant.