PART VI: THE FAMOUS ENSEMBLE
THE FOLDING TABLE + MONOBLOC CHAIR
THE FOLDING TABLE Folding tables can be dated back to the ancient era. The 16th century forerunners, the Drop-leaf and Gateleg tables can be folded into a compact unit to minimise footprint and ease storage. Yet, the new model, patented by Boris Cohen and Joseph Pucci in 1951, was the first of its kind to offer a portable solution. The new model was made entirely of lightweight metal which provides a durable yet adaptable design. When unfolded, the bracing elements rigidify the tabletop while locking the legs operatively in position for structural support.
THE FOLDING TABLE PATENT, 1951
Boris Cohen and Joseph Pucci, ‘Foldable Table’ (Philadelphia, 1951)
The structure can be neatly collapsed after use into a single sheet to ease transport and storage. Due to its inexpensive and straightforward construction, the model first underwent mass production in the 1990s. Owe much to its portability, the folding table thenceforth became globally favoured among the street vendors.
THE MONOBLOC Often accompanied the folding table is the ubiquitous monobloc. Born from the 21 time when plastic was a material heavy with promise, the monobloc now lurks in every corner of the globe. Its name, monobloc, derives from the distinct manufacturing process. The thermoplastic polypropylene granules are heated to 220°C, melted and injected into a mould. The end product is a seamless plastic piece.39 This method was developed from the monobloc’s technical predecessor: the Panton Chair —a single cantilevered design of Verner Panton. Yet, the Panton’s was handmade in contrast to the factory-born monobloc.
PANTON CHAIR, VERNER PANTON 1967
Karl Mang, Geschichte Des Modernen Möbels (Hatje, 1978)
Initially launched in 1983 by Grosfillex, the monobloc is the outcome to the modernist quest for the ideal machine-made furniture. In the wholly automated manufacturing process, the use of manpower is reduced to a minimum. The mould itself can extrude a chair every 70 seconds. The design had the material thickness adjusted to strike a balance between lightness and strength. The minimal workforce, time and material cost during the production resulted in an unbeatable market price. The monobloc’s affordability thus became the decisive factors to its worldwide triumph.
VERNER PANTON’S ICONIC DESIGN
Anne Quito, ‘It Pays to Splurge for An Authentic Version of The Panton Chair’, 2019
In the dining industry, the monobloc plays its trump cards of cheapness and become a starter-kit for restaurateurs and an essential among the street food vendors. Due to their portability, the monobloc is often coupled with its mass-produced pair: the folding table. The ensemble becomes the trademark of outdoor dining. In some cases, the monobloc stool doubles up as a dining table and solely dominates the urban landscape. Hence, the cultural permanence of the ubiquitous monobloc is undeniable. Repeatedly, the monobloc is subjected to scrutiny and hatred. By being the avatar of mass production, the monobloc continues to trigger the fear of cultural homogenisation. Its plastic material also renders the monobloc as an inherently evil object in the eyes of the vast majority.
Brian Stacey, ‘Hanoi Street Food’, 2008
Amid negative judgements, the ubiquitous industrial monobloc continues to promote social equality. The monobloc is the single manmade invention in reverse to other objects of its kind. Manmade objects are often part of the context that fuels division of mankind.40 Dining facilities, for example, signify wealth and power and thus distinguishing the rich from the poor. It is a norm that prevails since the ancient era. Yet the monobloc, a singular object independent of its context,41 offers a democratic outlook. From the formal wedding banquet to the informal food stalls, the monobloc is the epitome of universally accessible furniture, socially and financially — a true modernist design victory.
MONOBLOC AT A WEDDING BANQUET
Marie Charlotte, ‘Amandine & Hoël – Au Manoir de Kerouzien En Bretagne’, 2018