Thursday, February 24, 2011

Marc Newson, Random Pak Sofa

Marc Newson grew up in suburban Australia in the 1970s. During his childhood, he spent most of his time making things with his grandfather in their garage, and he also loved to take the different components of objects like radio, bicycles, watches apart to see how they worked. The little boy would have been amazed if he had known that he would later design cars and jet, that a work made by him in his 20s would be sold at more than 1 million pounds and would set a record, and that he would himself become an icon.

Newson studied jewelery and sculpture at Sydney College of Arts. In 1986, Lockheed Lounge launched Newson’s career. The then 23-year-old had made the piece with his own hands and exhibited it in a gallery in his native Sydney. It was the beginning of a process that would make him one of the most prolific and recognized designers in the world. The Lockheed Lounge established a parallel vein of work that is neither strictly furniture nor art but that he has described as experiments that needed a medium. Newson does design-art: handcrafted, limited editions of pieces of furniture so sculptural they are more art than serviceable item.

In 2005, Time magazine named Newson one of the 100 most influential people in the world, and he was also placed among the world's top 10 industrial designers, with names such as Philippe Starck and Ron Arad. In 2007, Newson had a solo show at the hugely influential Gagosian Gallery in New York, the only designer in a stable of artists.

Newson exploited his image cannily, occasionally even modelling next to his products in advertisements. But nowadays he is the rejecting the “rock star designer” epithet that was given to him by the media.

Among all his amazing works of art, we had to choose one related to the previous object we study, which was... Toilet Paper. The parallel was not so easy to make. But Toilet Paper is, first of all, paper. It is something that seems fragile, light, but in fact can be very strong. It is something that you can find in any home. It has a particular structure when you look at it closely. Taking all these different elements into account, we chose to work on the Random Pak Sofa. You can find a sofa in almost every apartment, it is an object of the daily life. But this Sofa has a very particular structure that we will study now. It seems light, it seems fragile, just as paper. But unlike toilet paper, it inevitably catch the attention of anyone who happens to see it.


This piece is made exclusively of grown nickel. The body of work at Gagosian is the culmination of a more serious period of investigation, heavily influenced by Newson’s access to the technology of the aviation industry. “All the technology that I’m interested in typically filters down from the aerospace industry, most of the time for the military,” he says. “I’m able to cross-fertilise, and that for me is what’s really exciting about what I do ».The process used to create its very particular honeycombed style derives form a software developed by Newson's studio to generate shapes built in nickel by a laser sintering process, typically used to create rapid prototypes for the automotive or aerospace industries. Sintering in the process of coalesceing from powder into solid by heating. This process is called electro-forming, and consists in the growing of a metallic culture onto surrogate forms that then become redundant. In the basic electroforming process, an electrolytic bath is used to deposit nickel or other electroplatable metal onto a conductive patterned surface, such as glass or stainless steel. Once the plated material has been built up to the desired thickness, the electroformed part is stripped off the master substrate.

“It’s for making shapes that can’t otherwise be fabricated, like complex manifolds for jet engines.” "This process is obscenely labor-intensive," says Newson. "It takes months and months and months to build each piece, because they are so hard to make and there are so many failures. We've put an enormous amount of research into this". Only 10 pieces had been made. So basically, if you want to recreate this object using its raw materials, you will need nickel powder, and powerful computers, software, lasers and other machines.


The pieces are currently exposed at the Gagosian Gallery in New York, their rice has been estimated to go from $70 000 to $400 000. Nevertheless in 2006, Newson's aluminum recliner, Lockheed Lounge, was sold at Sotheby's for $968 000 , the highest price fetched at auction for a work by a living designer. These are considered as works of art, and so their prices can skyrocket in auctions.

Marc Newson is suspicious of the design world's current love affair with art market. "It really bugs me that there are people cashing in on this", he says, referring to the lucrative wave of limited edition and one-off works selling through auction houses and galleries.


What does it look like ?

The Random Pak Sofa is designed to seat more than one person and providing support for the back and arms. Therefore, it disposes of 2 arm-rests on both sides and a long back.

The structure gives the RPS a metallic, shiny, grey hue.

On all parts, the sofa is pierced. The entire structure appears as a metallic web, or even a metallic sheet covering a sofa-shaped bubble of air, oddly holding in mid-air.

How does it differ from objects in the same family ?

Typically, couches consist of a wooden or metal structure supplemented by padding and are covered in a variety of textiles or leather, or sometimes a combination of both.

With the RPS, most of that is absent. Everything seems ot have been stripped to the bare essential: the metal structure. It is the sofa in its purest form.

We could also wonder about the alleged question of comfort that the regular sofa is expected to provide. At first glance, the very metal structure that constitutes this particular couch does not look very appealing to any back or bottom. On the contrary, one of the first question one might ask is: "Is that sofa really comfortable?"

By these characteristics, the RPS strictly differs from any typical sofa. The least one could say is that it is not conventional. Rather, it breaks free from the norms of the common sofa.


What is it used for?

Basically a sofa, regardless of its main component, serves primarily as object on which one can sit. It is a very social object as it enables multiple people to take place next to each other on a very limited area. Of course there are other more intimate ways to use a sofa, but this one does not seem quite appropriate as it main purpose does not seem to be the confort but it is its beauty and elegance that makes it different from other sofas; Hence this sofa can be used, as it is the product of a renowned designer, to sort of show off or at least expose your delicate tastes to your guests . In a nutshell, as it is a work of art, it is a way to show your tastes.

Besides, the question that comes is how you are going to present it? Are you going to put it right along the wall, or are you going to leave some room? Is it going to be at the center of the room?

Hence, the dilemma is whether you want to use it as a piece of art, or do you want to exploit its utility by using it on a daily basis?

How does it function ?

If you think, first, about how a classical sofa works, it is quite simple: you just sit on it. Or lay down on it. It is made in such a way that when you put something on it, the thing you put will be attracted toward the ground as a result of gravity, but the weigh will be compensated by the forces exercised by the sofa on the object. Hence the object will remain in a state of inertia.

But this sofa is first and foremost made to be looked at, to be admired, to be exposed. It is created an thought as a piece of art. Would it be strong enough for someone to sit on it ? Would someone even think of sitting on it ? Would you by something like this for practical needs, just to put it in your living room ? I would not.

Therefore, the RPS works as a piece of art, and a piece of art is meant to arouse someone's interest and imagination.


What makes this object unique and sets it apart from identical objects ?

One of the first assets that makes the RPS different from other designed sofas is the mark of the designer itself: Marc Newson. The pattern of oddly-shaped holes of the structure is one of the designer's touch. In this way, the image of the creator sets this object apart. Others could have designed it, but only Marc Newson did.

Is this object inviolable, or what, if anything, makes it sacrosanct ?

The emphasis put on the designer's label attributes a specific value to this object. One will not look at a sofa produced by a big chain in the same way, or with the same perspective as they will observe the RPS. This different approach contributes to transform this object and give it a more artistic value, maybe raise its 'ranking' in the sofa family.

The idea transported through this object complements its inviolability. To understand this, we need to analyse and understand the signification of the object...


How does this object go beyond initial interpretation ?

First, when we see it, it looks like a sofa. It is called a sofa. But its whole aspect shows, as we said before, that it is not only that. It is a piece of art. Classically, art is not associated with a practical use. It blurs the frontier between art and furniture, Newson uses the furniture as a basis for developing a new piece of art. To understand this object, we need to look further, we need to investigate how it was made, and what were Newson's inspirations. When we know it was science fiction, and the aviation industry gives us a further understanding of the object, who is a synthesis of furniture, art, science, and industry.

Does it have a cultural legacy whether it is for the mass, the elite ?

Here again there is a blur : a sofa is a popular object, it is for the mass, you can find it at very affordable prices, but this one is a piece of art designed by a designer whose first lounge has set a price record, which makes it clearly something for the elite. If we add to its potential really, really high price the fact that it has been exposed in a museum, we can nonetheless say that it is for the masses, because object are exposed in museums to be made available to the larger number of people possible.


  1. wow, thank you really interesting, one of my favourite peices to date.