saai | Archive for Architecture and Engineering

Digital Collection Egon Eiermann

SE 18 Folding chair


SE 18 Folding chair

This folding chair was the last in Egon Eiermann's series of successful furniture designs that went into commercial production, and it became his masterpiece. No other model designed by Eiermann, in fact no other piece of German furniture in the fifties, enjoyed the same kind of uninterrupted popularity for more than fifty years and is still manufactured today. And no other piece of furniture designed by Eiermann has won two important international awards, first the Good Design Award of the Museum of Modern Art in New York in 1953, and then a Silver Medal at the tenth Milan Triennale one year later.

In the beginning, it seemed like just another routine project. Since 1949 Eiermann had designed various pieces of furniture for the firm of Wilde + Spieth in Esslingen, manufacturers of rolling shutters and furniture, who asked him one day to design a simple folding chair. Eiermann had rather more ambitious plans, however, and it took him only three months to complete the model of an unusual and attractive piece of seating furniture. Abandoning his initial idea of using only laminated wood, he eventually decided on plywood.

What was so new and unusual for a folding chair in postwar Germany was the harmonious balance of functional and aesthetic criteria, combining easy storage, good handling, minimal weight, durability, modern Scandinavian-style design, and harmonious proportions. With his design of the SE 18, Eiermann succeeded in reconciling apparent contradictions–a case in point is the triangle joint between the spars of the frame, which is marked by formal elegance and functional reliability.

Standing alone, the chair conveys almost sculptural qualities, with no random lines or shapes, each one conforming to the others. At the same time the chair proves highly versatile and easily fits into any surrounding. lt could also be used to provide tiered seating with folding seats for larger halls. There were a number of variants, including a luxury version made

of teak with small plastic feet, smaller-sized chairs for children and for camping needs, and even a model with an attached writing table, but none of these ever diminished the success of the standard model.

Eiermann himself often used the SE 18 folding chair when he could provide his buildings with furniture of his own design. The seats and backs could be painted to provide brighter accentuation for his otherwise rather unobtrusively colored interiors. An example of this is the cafeteria of the Neckermann mail order house in Frankfurt am Main or, even more conspicuous, the German pavilions at the Brussels World's Fair of 1958, where Eiermann took the welcome opportunity to present to an international public his latest experiments, fitting the chair with seats and backs made of dyed plastic.

Arthur Mehlstäubler

"Egon Eiermann 1904-1970. Architect and Designer", Ed. Annemarie Jaeggi, Hatje Cantz: Ostfildern-Ruit, 2004, p. 217

Project-specific information

Project SE 18 Folding chair
Persons involved
  • Egon Eiermann, Design
  • Wilde + Spieth, Produktion
Project period 1953

Object-specific information

Typology Klappstuhl, folding chairs