The Monobloc is a veritable phenomenon. A staple of any pedestrian zone, the ubiquitous stackable seat has become the subject of an exhibition at the venerable Vitra Design Museum. After all, it exemplifies how a simple idea can change the world.

There’s absolutely no way to escape it. It lurks in backyards, at your local Italian, in countless cafes, or at the nearest outdoor pool. The white Monobloc chair has been an enduring phenomenon since the early 1970s. Yet despite its half-century of humble service, this everyday object continues to divide the design community.

Monobloc chairs in Florida
Wherever you go, the Monobloc is already there.
Photo: noARTshop/ Jürgen Lindemann
A Monobloc in green landscape
Photo: noARTshop/ Jürgen Lindemann
Monobloc chairs
Photo: noARTshop/ Jürgen Lindemann
Terrace in Saphan Taksin
Foto: noARTshop/ Jürgen Lindemann

After all, the Monobloc has conquered the world. It’s even claimed to be the most widely produced piece of furniture ever, with several hundred million copies in countless variants scattered across the world. From Rio to Roehampton, from Tokyo to Tasmania.

According to a lasting myth associated with the enduring design, its creator’s efforts were never actually appreciated, placing the Monobloc in the same league as the paper clip or the bendy straw. Despite – or maybe because of – this blatant disregard, it quickly became a template for efficient design.

Comprehensive exhibition at the Vitra Design Museum

Heng Zhi names French designer Henry Massonnet and his creation “Fauteuil 300“ (1972) a lasting stylistic influence of all later versions of the seminal chair. And Heng Zhi should know: She serves as curator of the “Monobloc – a chair for the world“ exhibition currently on display at the Vitra Design Museum in Weil am Rhein in Baden-Württemberg, Germany, until July 9th.

Heng Zhi also calls the Monobloc the epitome of all-in-one Modernity: Fashioned from a single piece of plastic, it shows how to achieve a lot with very little effort. And just like the polarizing reception early paragons of Modernity were greeted with in the 1930s, the object continues to divide connoisseurs: While some detest it as a plastic abomination, others celebrate the stackable seat as a design classic that pinpoints the way our world works.

No matter how you feel about this example of mass production: In terms of efficiency, the Monobloc remains world-class with its frill- and fuss-free, efficient design.

art-project in the Vitra Design Museum with Monobloc chairs
Artsy: “Respect Cheap Furniture“ by Martí Guixé.
Photo: Roland Schmid

An inspiring design classic

Yet according to critics, the Monobloc isn’t very sustainable. The chair represents global consumption and mass production. With this in mind, contemporary designers have tackled the Monobloc and used is as the starting point for new interpretations.

Many of their works reference the critique. Notable examples include the “Café Chair“ by Fernando and Humberto Campana, “Respect Cheap Furniture“ by Martí Guixé, or the “Monothrone“ by Italian designer Martino Gamper, produced especially for the Vitra Design Museum show.

colourful Monobloc chairs inspired by the Panton Chair
Versions of the famous Panton Chair from the Fifties.
Photo: Florian Boehm
Braided wicker Monobloc in the Vitra Design Museum
Braided wicker: Fernando and Humberto Campana‘s “Cafè Chair“.
Photo: Vitra Design Museum

The exhibition is complemented and enriched by plenty of background information and visual documentation depicting the plastic staple in a huge range of different contexts – from garden party to battle zone. 20 carefully chosen exhibits highlight both the Monobloc’s technical development and progression as well as its cultural significance.

In some countries, the plastic chair is considered a throwaway item – in others a cherished, valuable possession.

To round out these clashing perspectives, curator Heng Zhi provides us with a concise summary of the Monobloc’s positive attributes. “It’s weather-proof, stackable, lightweight, and very efficient to manufacture,“ she tells German news magazine Der Spiegel. “It achieves maximum impact with a minimum of resources.“ And that’s an area where – we have to admit – not many design objects can compete.

Vitra Design Museum, Charles-Eames-Str. 2, 79576 Weil am Rhein
Open daily, 10 am – 6 pm.
The exhibition is open until July 9th
For further information on the exhibition, please click here.