Using a Newly-Developed Polymer, Steelcase Aims to Reinvent the Office Chair

The polymer, which captures the springlike flexibility of carbon fiber, lets the chair behave more like a living organism and less like a machine.

Steelcase SILQ chair
Courtesy Steelcase

As technological advances increasingly complicate workplace design, contract furniture manufacturer Steelcase is betting on simplicity to drive productivity in the modern office. SILQ—a svelte new office chair from the company—conforms and responds to users’ movements, freeing up workers to focus on the task at hand rather than the chair they’re sitting on. “As the world becomes more complex, there’s an impulse in design to continue to simplify,” James Ludwig, vice president of global design and product engineering at Steelcase, notes. “There’s this notion in modernity around the essence of things, and that’s what we really wanted to center ourselves on.”

After ten years in development, the SILQ concept has been made possible by an innovative new material that enables the chair to behave more like a living organism and less like a machine. Ludwig first sketched out his vision for a bio-inspired, minimalist office chair in 2008, but the design proved technically infeasible. Later, he and a small team of designers and engineers developed a proprietary performance polymer that captures the springlike flexibility of carbon fiber at a price point viable for the contract market. “Movement is an overlooked component of healthy sitting,” Ludwig observes. “It plays into the whole notion of how work is changing.”

The material allows SILQ’s seat and back to pivot and flex as a dynamic unit, with fewer mechanical parts than in conventional office chairs: The system requires just 30 components and a single adjustment for seat height. SILQ’s sculptural form, at once futuristic and organic, reflects both mathematical algorithms and human inspiration. A broad range of finishes allows for customization, while the premium version of SILQ features a full carbon-fiber shell and leather upholstery for a high-tech take on executive seating.

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SILQ’s simplicity rethinks the office chair without sacrificing the versatility necessary for multi-use applications. By harnessing innovations in materials science and modeling technology, SILQ offers a human-centric seating experience in which the user becomes part of the chair and not just its passenger. “There’s nothing more magnetic than a chair in this industry…. People can connect to them, they relate to them,” Ludwig says. “There is a cultural history around chairs and seating—they are markers of the advances of technology.”

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