September 19 2013

As you read this, FIU School of Architecture assistant professor Nick Gelpi is hard at work building a new table for the museum’s lobby, with the help of a few committed students. That is their reward after Gelpi Project’s Bending Table won the lobby table design challenge, Six Components (and a handful of screws). The competition challenged designers to create a table design based on the iconic Thonet 214 chair and specified that, like the chair, the table should have six components and be easily assembled. The table was also required to accommodate twenty-four Thonet chairs.

The many proposals received were narrowed down to three finalists and the public was asked to choose the winner. Voting took place both online and in the lobby. The winner, Bending Table, consists of six separate, small tables that can fit together into one large table (18 x 6 feet). Each small table is a unique, organic shape designed to be scattered throughout the lobby when not configured together. The tabletops are milled from bamboo plywood; the central post and branched structure of each table is ash wood. A model of the table is currently on view in the lobby; the real thing will be installed later this fall.

“This was a unique project. Ordinarily a table is something we place objects on top of. In this case, we were considering the table as a field you put chairs around, so we approached it with this reconsideration of the table in mind,” says Gelpi. “We created a lightweight table that has an open webbing pattern you can see through. There are no sharp corners. Instead, the table is organic, playful, and it seems to bend space around it.” The bending radius of the tables reinterprets Thonet’s bent wood manufacturing, while the transparent nature of the tables allows the textures of the lobby to be fully appreciated, Gelpi explains.

When he decided to enter the competition, Gelpi recruited three of his undergraduate students for the project team, Monica Cordera, Claudia Fernandez, and Julia Sarduy. They spent an intensive few weeks during the summer brainstorming, sketching, building models, and arriving at the final design. “They were very excited about the project, very enthusiastic,” Gelpi says. “This was one of those projects that allowed us to show how we can design as we engage with the processes of fabrication and traditions of furniture making. The potential to build our design really excited us, and we had fun bending strips of paper and building concept models to consider how best to represent the chairs without simply duplicating them. The manufacturing was very important to us, so the fabrication studies really influenced the design. The overall process worked out well.” 


Bending Table, Gelpi Projects, winning entry for Six Components (and a handful of screws)