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Are you sitting sensibly? The Chair By Galen Cranz. W W Norton, 1998. 288pp. £9.95

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Galen Cranz argues for a radical rethink of the way we work and rest in this comprehensive and informative book, just out in paperback. It should be an invaluable source of reference for anyone in the field of design, or indeed anyone with an interest in their own long-term physical and mental well-being.

Divided neatly into three parts, considering the past, present and future of the chair, the first section looks at how chairs have evolved, from the earliest examples of Neolithic stools, through the Roman Empire and ancient Egypt, up to the present day. We see the chair's function become almost secondary as its symbolic role, signalling power/status, increases in importance. This chapter charts the progression of the chair into a decorative art object and examines the effects of cultural and sociological change on its form.

Cranz goes on to analyse the present problems caused by chairs and sitting. This is perhaps the most startling chapter; indeed some of the claims are likely to make you want to give up conventional chairs for good. Cranz describes how the ninety degree angle between seat and back which most chairs conform to has, in fact, deformed our bodies over the years, to the extent that, when we try to sit correctly and unsupported, we are unable to do so. The chapter is detailed yet digestible, drawing on the research of many experts right across the fields of physical, mental and holistic health.

Cranz dissects some of the great twentieth-century classics, such as Mies van der Rohe's Barcelona and Breuer's Cesca chair (Cesca apparently being among the 10 most common chairs in the world), analysing them from an ergonomic point of view. As might be expected, none of them scores highly, apart from Le Corbusier's Chaise-longue Basculante - 'One can change the way gravity works on the body' - and, more surprisingly, the Rietveld chair. 'By being more planar than all the other chairs discussed, it gives the rib cage and pelvic bowl the opportunity to open out against these planes.'

The last part, looking at the future of chair design, asks 'what positive actions we might take as consumers and designers, in the face of the intractable problems of chair design'. Many examples of radical redesigns and chairless offices and homes are included, as Cranz argues her case for cultural change in the way we live and work. Her message is clear, as she urges: 'Identify what forces keep such visions of sensual rationality from becoming our cultural standard. And become your own advocate for body-conscious design.'

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