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Design Classics

Platform Bench, 1946

Designer: George Nelson
Manufacturer: Herman Miller

Architect, designer, teacher, editor and author, George Nelson was one of the legendary figures in post-war America's exuberant and prolific design explosion. In speaking about the design process, Nelson liked to refer to “zaps” – moments of inspiration “when the solitary individual finds he is connected with a reality he never dreamed of.” Nelson believed designers needed to be “aware of the consequences of their actions on people and society and thus cultivate a broad base of knowledge and understanding.” After seeing a collection of photos of blighted American cities, one of his “zaps” was to develop the idea of the downtown pedestrian mall.

Platform or bench? As originally presented, it's both, plus a table and a base for storage cabinets. According to design legend, its use as a bench was Nelson's solution to deter visitors from sitting in his office for more than 15 minutes. With elegantly joined solid maple slats spaced to let light and air through and a simple black metal base, it reflects a modern as well as a Japanese aesthetic.

In 1945, Nelson became director of design at Herman Miller, where he recruited such designers as Charles Eames and Isamu Noguchi to develop many of the products that placed the company at the forefront of progressive American design and manufacturing. During his 25-year association with the company, he also developed his own designs, including the whimsical Marshmallow Sofa that featured bright-coloured standard barstool seats. The platform bench was introduced in 1946 and reissued in 1994.

One of George Nelson's famous maxims was “the product must be honest.” The platform bench is straightforward and architectural – not surprising, given Nelson's training as an architect and his stint as an editor of the prestigious magazine Architectural Forum. Beautiful in its rectilinear robustness, it's a place of perch – but for no more than 15 minutes, mind you – as you slip on your Manolo Blahniks.

National Post, January 12, 2006.