Superlight chair, 2003–04
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Little and a lot has changed since the Electrical Machine and Equipment Company (Emeco) was founded in 1944 by Wilton Carlyle Dinges III, utilizing the skills of local German immigrant craftsmen to create an aluminum chair. A great American manufacturing story, Emeco has established a design and manufacturing partnership that is both homegrown and cosmopolitan. It still manufactures the classic aluminum 10-06 (ten-o-six) Navy chair, originally developed with Alcoa for use in Navy submarines and warships, but these chairs, along with several new lines, are now used worldwide in boutique restaurants, retail shops, corporate offices, and airports. They are a design workhorse when it comes to chairs—each chair has a lifespan of 150 years— and the success of the company has as much to do with maintaining an extraordinary standard in craftsmanship as recognizing the need for modernization and public outreach.

When Gregory Buchbinder bought Emeco from his father, Jay, in 1998, he transformed the company from a government contractor to servicing the architect and design community. In 1999, he began working with renowned designer Philippe Starck to develop a full line of products based on a redesign and updating of the 10-06 chair. This has led to other collaborations, including a 2005 version of Emeco’s 1951 hospital chair by Adrian van Hooydonk, Frank Gehry’s Superlight, and, most recently, Sir Norman Foster’s 20-06. For Gehry’s Superlight chair, inspired by the extreme lightness of Italian designer Gio Ponti’s 1952 Superleggera chair, a fine sheet of aluminum is draped over and joined to an open tubular frame, making a chair that is comfortable, lightweight, and strong. Weighing in at 6.5 pounds, the chair’s shell and frame are easily snapped together by clear plastic clips, allowing each to flex independently and move with the sitter. Available with an industrial felt pad or in brushed/anodized aluminum, the chair is also stackable when disassembled.

The Superlight utilizes much of the same seventy-seven-step process that Emeco has been known for since its founding. With the 10- 06 chair, it begins with twelve different aluminum sections welded together. After each step, the chair is ground to smooth out the welds and create a seamless look that has led people to believe it is cast in a mold. To strengthen it, the chair is then heat-treated, cooled off, and heated again in a proprietary process which causes its molecules to realign in a stronger formation, ultimately making the chair three times stronger than steel.