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POLYPROPYLENE

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27 Mar 2020

Robin Day once said “not new things but better things”.

He was referring to his design mission of bringing affordable design that was both beautiful and well made to the masses. Robin and his wife Lucienne, the textile designer, were working at a time in post war history when mass produced and affordable products were becoming a reality for the average person in a way that they never had before.

In a way that foresaw our present day situation, Robin Day believed not in a disposable approach to design but in manufacturing products that were sufficiently well constructed that they would last a lifetime. He spoke of the adult human body remaining the same over its lifetime (give or take), therefore, why should the chair supporting that body need to change.

Polypropylene was invented by the Italian scientist, Giulio Natta, in 1954, and had just begun to be used in furniture design when Robin Day chose it for his now famous Polyprop chair (the most widely manufactured chair ever made). Polypropylene is a thermoplastic that is both lightweight and highly impact resistant. It’s incredible strength allows for the one piece seat to be constructed using a minimal amount of plastic and with great cost effectiveness. These reasons, along with the ability to form it into any shape imaginable, was why it was the perfect material for a designer looking to invent a new approach to popular furniture.

The Polo range, that Robin designed, builds on the seminal polyprop chair design in several clever ways. The rows of graduated circular holes enhanced the polyprop chair to become a chair that was additionally suitable for outdoor use – as they allow water to drain through and wind to blow through – so that it remains upright. The holes also mean that the Polo is even more economical in its use of material, further cutting the amount of plastic needed to produce it.

In addition, the Polo is very hygienic; the smooth plastic finish provides a surface that is easy to clean and doesn’t have any texture/ grooves to harbour bacteria.

On top of all this, perhaps its greatest strength, is that, as polypropylene is a thermoplastic, it can be melted down and effectively recycled into something else at the end of its product lifetime. We call this the ‘circular economy’.

Plastic can sometimes get a bad reputation, but what makes it problematic when it gets into waste streams (i.e its indestructibility) is also what makes it such a good material to use. When you acquire a polypropylene chair you shouldn’t need to buy another one for a very long time.