(Fast Company Design) Sitting Is Deadly. Could Banning Chairs Help?
MEG MILLER 02.15.17 8:00 AM
We know sitting all day is bad for us. This design studio thinks radically rethinking our indoor environments is the way to break the habit.
By now the health deficits of sitting all day are so widely studied and well-documented that they’re impossible to ignore. Studies show that sitting increases lower back pain, slows our metabolisms, and shortens our life-spans, among a host of other things. Not even daily exercise is enough to offset the damage. What’s a health-conscious person to do?
One answer: Eliminate chairs altogether. At the interdisciplinary Dutch studio RAAAF (Rietveld Architecture-Art-Affordances), brothers and cofounders Ronald and Erik Rietveld have been studying how radically redesigning the workplace and home might affect how sedentary we are. Their installations The End of Sitting, which debuted in 2014, and Breaking Habits, opening at the Mondriaan Fund for Visual Arts in Amsterdam February 16, present chair-free environments that encourage people to get up and move. As Erik puts it, “As long as there are chairs present, people will sit in them habitually.”
Though grounded in scientific research, the Rietveld’s installations are mostly conceptual; they’re about researching how we can manipulate an environment’s design to impact sedentary behavior. But they bring up an interesting idea: What if we did banish chairs altogether? Is that even possible? And would that solve our societal sitting problem, or just open up the door to new problems?
A SPACE THAT NUDGES YOU TO MOVE
The design of the structures in the Rietveld’s project are the result of years of research and a series of experiments. Ronald is a practicing architect, and Erik is a philosopher, whose research project “The Landscape of Affordances: Situating the Embodied Mind,” funded by the Netherlands Organisation for Scientific Research (NWO), forms the basis for the design work. The pair’s research revolves around the scientific concept of affordances—put simply, the idea that human behavior is learned by picking up the information that is relevant to survival, and ignoring the rest. Throughout history, trees have afforded climbing on, for example, and holes have afforded hiding in. And for centuries in Western society, chairs have afforded sitting in.
Working together, Erik and Ronald have taken the idea of affordances and applied it to the prospect of a chair-less and table-less future. “The easiest ways to change human behavior is to radically change our surrounding environment,” says Erik. Three years ago, the studio reimagined the office as a labyrinth of concrete and plywood—without traditional desks or chairs—for The End of Sitting. In Breaking Habits, they expanded the scope to include the home, with a futuristic and surreal “domestic landscape.”