124 Chairs from University History

Professor emeritus Jouko Laasasenaho recalls old chairs being ergonomically better suited for orang-utans than people

124 Chairs from University History

“We sat on a bench like this in the professor’s room for our oral examinations, sometimes five abreast. They were stressful situations, particularly if the professor had a system where at least one student had to fail the examination.”

Professor Emeritus of Forest Resource Science and Technology Jouko Laasasenaho finds the chairs of the Seats of Learning exhibition full of memories.

Laasasenaho began at the University in 1963 and spent nearly a quarter of a century working in the Forestry Building, a source of several chairs in the exhibition.

“The professors’ chambers had chairs made with wood and leather. Not all were particularly comfortable to sit in; it seemed like some of the backrests were designed more with orang-utans than people in mind. Sometimes the upholstery was cheap, sweaty artificial leather which would stain your trousers if you sat on it.”

Ergonomic issues notwithstanding, there is no denying the aesthetic value of the old chairs from the Forestry Building. As befitted a building designed for the forestry sciences, a bold range of different woods were used.

The furniture from the Forestry Building is among the favourites of curator Ritva Varakas.

Arttu Brummer and Runar Engblom designed furniture for the Forestry Building,” she explains. ”The work of both designers is elegant and timeless, and the pieces would still be appropriate today.”

Many people became attached to the beautiful furnishings of the Forestry Building.

“I was a department head in the late 1980s when we moved to the Viikki Campus. It was hard for some of us to leave the furniture behind. They were a part of our cultural environment,” Laasasenaho recounts.

Of the 124 chairs on view, a segment of a couch from the lobby in the D building is the only piece representing the furniture from the Faculty of Forestry and Agriculture’s Viikki facilities.

Museum pieces or everyday objects?

The focus of the exhibition is on chairs from the City Centre Campus and design classics, including a bench designed by Engel, the seat for the chairperson of the University Senate, and an original Domus chair.

Most of the chairs on display are still in use.

“Approximately 15 chairs are from museum collections, the rest are still in use by the University community in a range of spaces and offices,” explains Varakas.

For example, Olli Lehto, chancellor from 1988 to 1993, used the ornate chancellor’s chair in his office despite objections from museum staff. The marks on the lion heads in the armrests are from the chancellor’s desk.

The Seats of Learning exhibition in the University of Helsinki Main Building, new side, 3rd floor, until 31 December 2012. The exhibition is open Mon–Fri 9.00–19.00, Sat 9.00–14.30.

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Text: Juha Merimaa
Photo: Ari Aalto
University of Helsinki, digital communications

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