This article continues the series from Part 1 and Part 2.

6. Cabriolet Bed

There's no question that Italian designer Joe Colombo was one of the greatest visionaries of his generation.  Many of his works will be lavishly praised on this site in future posts.  But, like anyone else, he had some dodgy moments, and his Cabriolet Bed was an unfortunate example of ivory-tower syndrome at its worst.  At first sight, it looks wonderfully futuristic, with its unique cover and built-in modern conveniences.  But, once you get past the initial sense of awe, it becomes clear that it was a doomed and contradictory creation, totally lacking in real-world usability.

More precisely: a bed has three typical uses.  None of those activities improves in a tightly enclosed environment with decreasing oxygen and accumulating carbon dioxide.  If on top of that you encourage smoking via a built-in ashtray and cigarette lighter, the occupant's most important choice is whether he prefers death by asphyxiation or cremation.  Colombo obviously realized some of these problems after deploying the bed in his own apartment, and added a fan and side ventilation holes not present in his original sketch (see below).  But the added holes, of course, massively reduce the effectiveness of the cover in terms of providing a bidirectional barrier to sensory information. 

Realistically, floorplans broken up into rooms by means of solid walls and doors are much more effective in terms of delivering privacy than Colombo's open layout, where individual components have to provide their own enclosures.  Even worse, in terms of commercial viability and backward compatibility, you can't mix and match the two philosophies: a Cabriolet Bed, when placed a conventional bedroom with four solid walls tightly surrounding it, immediately becomes both redundant and paranoid.

And yet, despite the Cabriolet Bed's practical shortcomings, the key concept behind its design wasn't flawed so much as misdirected.  As we'll see below, there does exist a context in which Colombo's concept of an adjustable built-in furniture cover makes complete practical sense.

7. Sunball

Sunball was designed by Günter Ferdinand Ris and Herbert Selldorf for the Rosenthal company in West Germany. Very few were made from 1969 to 1971 (probably less than 50), and that scarcity makes the current market value of a mint original upwards of u$30K.

The chair has a number of different parts, including: lacquered fiberglass-reinforced polyester as the exterior shell, foam and fabric for the upholstery, plastic for the various trays, and aluminum for the spring hinge elements.

Like the Cabriolet Bed, Sunball can also be closed completely.  When viewed in that position, it clearly betrays an astronaut (or medieval?) helmet inspiration.  Also, like Colombo's bed, and unlike most lounge chairs from the same period, it has room for two people, which as you might recall from the previous article in this series, I consider a very desirable characterstic.

But the truly decisive difference that avoids the functional dead-end of Colombo's Cabriolet Bed is that Sunball was always intended for outdoor use.  In that context, a protective and adjustable shading cover makes perfect sense.  In fact, it makes so much sense that outdoor furniture designers have recently rediscovered the idea, and you can see it in action at posh beach resorts and poolside nightclubs worldwide.  Witness, for example, the AKG Cabana Chair below.  Look familiar?

Thinking through various usage scenarios, Sunball also contains a built-in lamp, loudspeakers, and interior and exterior drink-holding trays.  So although it could be considered relatively ugly versus the visual elegance and simplicity of, say, Aarnio's designs, it's probably the most usable and versatile of all the pods from the 60s and 70s.

And so this topic comes to an end.  But, in the tradition of cinematic bodysnatching, a sequel is inevitable and already in the works.  Sunball's focus on usability is the perfect branching-off point onto a side road that will be explored sometime in 2008.

Posted on Wednesday, December 05, 2007
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