Panel Discussion is a design project by Max Frommeld and Arno Mathies that acknowledges the history of Villa Noailles as both a place of relaxation and entertainment. Using a single material, Valchromat – an engineered and improved version of MDF (Medium Density Fibreboard), the designers developed objects that bring people together and encourage communal activities.
The designers have selected the bench as a furniture type for Panel Discussion because of the Villa’s history of creative dialogue. The bench has a reputation as a communal piece of furniture that in a very direct and physical way brings people together. Artist Francis Cape has described a bench as a seat to share. In his book We Sit Together, Cape explains that sharing a bench means sharing the same material support, also sitting at the same level.1 Wanting to encourage social interaction and enhance the public space of the Villa, Frommeld and Mathies have produced benches of different heights and depths.
The designers experimented with the proportions of a traditional bench and created modular components: mitered boxes for seats and legs. These elements are exaggerated and varied in order to create a series of parts that can be arranged and assembled to form a bench. Inspired by the Villa’s geometry of crisp rectangles and squares, Frommeld and Mathies have applied primary shapes and patterns to each piece of furniture. Importantly, the patterns are drawn into the furniture rather than applied. The decoration is therefore integral to the benches and disrupts the symmetry of the orthogonal bench forms.
Located in the entry courtyard, the furniture produced for Panel Discussion frames, disturbs, complements and contrasts the Villa’s modernist volumes by creating new surfaces and places to sit.
Text by Mariah Nielson
1 Francis Cape, We Sit Together: Utopian Benches From the Shakers to the Separatists of Zoar, (New York: Princeton Architectural Press, 2013), p. 9