The Making of
The Linz Stool by Thomas Feichtner

You don’t have to stare at Thomas Feichtner’s work for very long to detect a theme — facets and folds everywhere, on desk lamps, chairs, teapots, even a set of futuristic cutlery. Rather than imparting severity, though, the lines are a more artful alternative to minimalism: “I think things should work properly,” says the Austrian designer, “but do they really need to look like it?” To create his leather-upholstered Public armchair, for example, which is shaped like a canted square with an open back, Feichtner began with freeform sketches and then limited himself to manipulating it using only points and lines; for him, this design method represents a quiet subversion — using unfamiliar or out-of-context forms, like a hexagonal spoon, to suggest that our preconceptions of how objects “should” look are often needlessly limiting.

For his current “Linz Hocker” installation (hocker means “stool” in German), Feichtner flooded Austria’s State Gallery Linz with more than 1,000 grey plastic stools that take a traditional form — a flipped-over milk crate — and radically update it into something resembling a spaceship part. With the backing of Vitra and the help of a local factory, he was able to manufacture the stool quickly and inexpensively enough to allow for museumgoers to take one home with them, which has been gradually dismounting the show over its three-month duration. “The focus is not on giving something away but on the idea of the artificial democratization of design,” Feichtner writes in his artist’s statement. “Over the years this product may become a unique Linz specimen: Stools will appear again and again in apartments, shops, or studios. Some will change hands at the Linz flea markets. In the course of time the stool may not only circulate in Linz, but also become a messenger for design from Linz.” Here’s how he did it.

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The design of the Linz stool arose from two constraints: First, that it be feasible to allow anyone visiting the museum to walk away with one. Second, that it fit the manufacturing parameters. Local artist Helmuth Gsöllpointner introduced Feichtner to the owner of the 30-year-old Haidlmair factory, which had produced steel sculptures for Gsöllpointner but which normally develops injection molds for the production of plastic crates, pallets, and parts.

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The factory suggested that it would be easiest if Feichtner designed something that was approximately the size of a crate; he wanted it to be something useful, like a seat. And of course he employed his signature geometries, too, in this case for stability.

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After sketching the stool, Feichtner made 1:1 cardboard models stable enough for a person to sit on (pictured). An engineer then nailed down important production details — like draft angles and down forces — generating final rapid-prototyped models to test the stackability and stability of the stool. The model material turned slightly white when distressed, which allowed Feichtner to see where the stool would experience stress when overloaded.

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At the Haidlmair factory, a 2.5-acre production facility in the alpine foothills of upper Austria, Feichtner was given an injection-molding machine normally reserved for testing. The recycled polymer used to make his stools was technically waste material — it would have been discarded had he not used it.

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The mold consisted of two nested positive and negative aluminum forms between which liquid polymer was injected.

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It only took 50 seconds to manufacture each stool.

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A factory worker pulling the first Linz stool from the mold. This process is usually automatic, but during the initial test run, Haidlmair himself, the engineers, the workers, Feichtner, and Feichtner's wife all wanted to see how it would work. To correct any mistakes, the machines would have to be further calibrated before the actual production run.

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The first 20 stools were produced in a limited run one week later, the pieces intended for collection by museums and galleries. One has already been placed in the permanent collection of MAK, the Museum of Applied Art in Vienna. Total time it took to manufacture the final production run of 2,000 stools: one day.

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The State Gallery director invited Feichtner to lay out his own installation. He experimented with various patterns and structures, attempting to mount stools on the wall or bend them together to create three-dimensional objects, eventually deciding that a mass of stacked pieces was more engaging.

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After two days of arranging the stools into perfect order, Feichtner elected to leave them in complete disarray, with a neat circulation route around them. “Now it looks more like storage than an artwork,” he says happily.

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On opening night, visitors took the stools with them under their arms as they departed for home.