Depleted Thonet
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Project Details
Name: Depleted Thonet
Designer: Emiliano Godoy
Year: 2010
Dimensions: 85 x 56 cm, print on cotton paper

These posters are modified pages from an early Thonet catalog, where in each subsequent poster more and more parts of the furniture pieces are missing. The missing parts represent deforestation, and metaphorically depict the forests that the company depleted during its early years


I designed these posters for an exhibition called Cafe Tschichold*, shown at Cuchifritos art gallery and project space in New York City in 2010.


I have created a set of three posters, called “Depleted Thonet”, which play with the idea of what would’ve happened if Michael Thonet’s company had stayed in the same place during their early years, instead of moving around and creating new factories in new locations every time they ran out of resources. The posters are modified versions of pages from “The 1904 Thonet illustrated catalogue”, which I scanned in high resolution and digitally modified. I erased sections or parts of the featured furniture, minor modifications in the first poster but more on the second one, and by the third the page is almost empty, with only a few half-functional pieces left. The missing parts of course represent deforestation, and metaphorically depict the forests that the company depleted during its early years. From the first factory in Moravia, established in 1855, until his death in 1871, Michael Thonet established five factories in Koritschan, Bistritz, Hallenkau, Wsetin and Nowo-Radomsk. Every time, the defining factors for their placement was the availability of raw materials and cheap labor, and the primary motive for the opening of a new location was the scarcity of previously abundant natural resources (Thonet 14, Giovanni Renzi, Silvana Editoriale, 2003).


Michael Thonet has always been a difficult character for me. There’s this uniqueness and cavalierly to him that is very appealing, but he is also the creator of the first large-scale example of what’s so wrong with industrial manufacturing and everything I’ve worked against for years: workers exploitation, resources depletion, the idea of culture universalism, etc. In fact, his golden era coincides with the point in industrial design history where the real separation between art and technique occurred. When you no longer needed a craftsman to create a piece of furniture, and the design and manufacturing platform were laid out beforehand, then you were able to use cheap, unskilled and replaceable labor to make objects without individual spirit. Designers inherited the cumulative higher status that artisans and craftsmen lost, and became an essential part of industrial manufacturing. I do not previous, craft based manufacturing systems are neither better nor appropriate today, but I also do not think the industrial revolution model is any better. What Thonet pioneered represents all that is good and bad about the industrial revolution, and now that the design world is celebrating 150 years of the No. 14 chair I think it’s worth taking a critical look at how this system, and design a better one for the next 150 years. A desirable sustainable manufacturing platform should be that which keeps the social, economic and cultural wealth created in the last 150 years, but changes our relation to resource use, consumption paradigms and environmental responsibility.


*Café Tschihold is the name of a concept developed by a group of artists and designers (Emiliano Godoy, Terence Gower, Sonia Lartigue, Edgar Orlaineta and Tilman Wendland) to generate dialogues, events and situations integrating different formal languages, techniques and manifestations concerning Architecture, Design, Craft, and Art in general with the principle of not limiting these activities by their historical definition.