Winning chair in Oxford University library competition

winning chair
CC BY 2.0 Bonnie Alter, The Bodleian Curators' Chair 1756

How do you top a chair that has been used for 257 years in a school library? The Bodleian Libraries at England's University of Oxford decided that it was time for a new chair and they held a competition.

Here are the criteria:

Whilst remaining open-minded regarding the style of the chair, the Bodleian Libraries would like to see a winning design that will become a future classic.
The chair must fulfil the basic, pragmatic needs of the user, delivering comfort, support and the practical ability to work, however the competition aims at eliciting an exciting and inspired result, which will ultimately become part of academic and design history.

The winning chair will be used in three reading rooms in the newly refurbished library. It's a tough one.

winning chairBonnie Alter/CC BY 2.0
Edward Barber and Jay Osgerby

The winner is designed by Edward Barber and Jay Osgerby. They are design darlings, having been responsible for last summer's Olympic torch.

The chair is a three-legged oak chair, which judges felt showed a strong sense of craft heritage and sculptural form while meeting ‘complex reader requirements’. The designers thought that it was important that the chair be good looking from the rear since it would usually be seen that way. The vertical backrest is meant to echo the spines of books on shelves. The circular form of the seat frame is echoed in the armrest and seat base.

winning chairBonnie Alter/CC BY 2.0
Matthew Hilton, Amanda Levete

The other two finalists were Matthew Hilton and Amanda Levete.

His is made of oak and wood and is ergonomically designed.

Levete's chair is made of a compressed natural fibre shell, stainless steel and leather.

winning chairBonnie Alter/CC BY 2.0
Sir Giles Gilbert Scott

Sir Giles Gilbert Scott was the designer of the library in 1930, and he also designed these chairs in 1936, along with the fixtures and fittings such as chairs, tables, shelving and lights.

It's a huge honour: this is only the third chair to be commissioned for the world famous libraries. The building is being refurbished by Wilkinson Eyre Architects to create a state of the art facility, with increased storage, public access and greatly improved facilities for readers.

winning chairBonnie Alter/CC BY 2.0
Gilbert Bayes, 1939

Winning chair in Oxford University library competition
When the university is Oxford and the original chair dates from 1756, it's a hard act to follow.

Related Content on