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Monobloc in Kampala, Uganda
Kampala, Uganda. Image: Boris Mahlau / Pier 53
Hamburg, Deutschland
Monobloc in Hamburg, Germany. Image: Boris Mahlau / Pier 53
Fortaleza, Brasilien
Fortaleza, Brasilien. Image: Boris Mahlau / Pier 53

Does democratization of design result in the creation of chairs like the Monobloc? A small, affordable, plastic chair that can be used by anyone? A chair where cultural differences primarily show during use? A chair that effectively balances the good and bad aspects of a worldwide product and consumer culture? A chair that raises all kinds of economic, ecological, social and aesthetic questions that are anything but easy to answer? A chair that is acceptable regardless of the nation or societal standing? It is without a doubt the furnishings item that has sold the most worldwide: This inexpensive, frequently white, and not especially attractive plastic chair is thought to be produced in one billion versions worldwide. How did it get so far?

Hauke Wendler has created a great, multi-award-winning documentary that is much more than a design video with “Monobloc.” (see our ndion review of 24 January 2022). The Grimme Prize winner spent eight years on the project. He followed the path of the plastic chairs with his camera crew, filming in six nations and across five continents. Wendler shows those involved in the chair’s creation, use, and disposal throughout the process without avoiding difficult issues or merging together intractable contradictions. The narrative describes how this chair—which many people mock—has invaded the globe, ruined livelihoods, and brought wealth. From a northern Italian industrial area where three brothers copied a brilliant concept, to a Ugandan village where people cannot engage in social life without their Monobloc wheelchair, to a Brazilian favela where the chair is not a disposable product. “Monobloc” demonstrates what design can do and what it can cause, both positively and negatively, intentionally or unintentionally.

The captivating documentary about the most popular plastic chair in the world is available in the ARD media archive until 1 February 2024 for those who were unable to make it to the theater. The ARD audio library contains a podcast on the subject as well. Please note that both, the documentary and the podcast, are in German.

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