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Audi to launch ultralight chair, inspired by car R&D

Posting in Architecture

Given the extensive material and consumer research that goes into making a car comfortable and desirable, it makes sense that the world's luxury automakers are now applying their knowledge to furniture. At Design Miami, a high-profile, high-end design trade show that takes place next week in South Florida (from December 5-9), German automaker Audi will launch a slick new seat, the R18 Ultra Chair. Weighing less than five pounds, it was inspired by Audi's research in super-lightweight materials and ergonomics, as well as Audi's R18 Ultra race car (hence the chair's name). The car manufacturer enlisted hip design duo Clemens Weisshaar and Reed Kram (of Kram/Weisshaar), whose clients range from fashion brands ACNE and Prada to corporations such as PriceWaterhouseCoopers, to shape it.

The concept of the R18 Ultra Chair has already gotten a fair amount of buzz at another fashionable design event, the Salone del Mobile in Milan, Italy in April. During that convention, Audi and Weisshaar and Kram presented a prototype of the futuristic-looking seat in the elegant courtyard of the 18th Century Palazzo Clerici and asked dozens of visitors to test it. Using physics modeling software they applied the data gathered to create a comfortable piece of furniture based on the reactions of real-life potential users.

The chair is made from the same carbon composites and aluminum used in the very light -- and therefore fast and fuel efficient -- R18 Ultra race car. The concept of repurposing auto design for other types of product brand extensions echoes the approach of Mercedes Benz Style, the furniture arm launched earlier this year by Audi's rival in the luxury German car category (and now slick furniture category).

At the product launch at Design Miami, Audi, which is a sponsor of the event, will present the chair along with the car (see the model of the installation, above). Also on display will be the designers' sketches, a sure-to-be-attention-grabbing industrial robot, and other references to the making of the chair. While the chair of course doesn't need to be fast, having the sleek lines of a race car and a trusted pedigree to match can only enhance its aesthetic -- and brand -- appeal. That its lightness makes it easy to transport around a dinner table or an office conference room and especially when shipped, ostensibly leading to cheaper transportation costs, makes the Audi's inspiration from auto R&D that much more inspiring.

Images: Photo of chair, copyright Tom Vack; model of Design Miami installation, courtesy Kram/Weisshaar

[via R18 Ultrachair]

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— By on November 29, 2012, 11:05 AM PST

Reena Jana

Contributing Editor

Contributing Editor Reena Jana has written for the New York Times, Wired, Harvard Business Review online, Fast Company, Architectural Record, Artforum, Time Out New York, Harper's Bazaar, and GQ. Previously, she was the innovation department editor at BusinessWeek. She holds degrees from Columbia University and Barnard College. Follow her on Twitter. Disclosure