Derived from the Latin phrase ‘mensa academica’ meaning a university midday meal, the word mensa has come to denote students’ university canteens and cafeterias. Mensa chairs are therefore a subset of the gastronomy product group that serve to furnish these spaces, combining economy of means with durability, functionality and graceful form.
The most enduring classic in mensa chairs is undoubtedly ‘14 chair’ by TON, a bentwood design by Michael Thonet from 1859, and the first mass-produced chair in the world. Since then, designers and manufacturers have been trying to outclass one another, often with stellar results. Architect Arne Jacobsen’s 1955 ‘Toungue Chair’ by HOWE features a base with four slender metal legs supporting a sensuously curved, plywood shell. In 2008, Alejandro Zaera, another architect, designed ‘Pad’ mensa chair for Dynamobel, an organically shaped seat which provides optimal ergonomic support.
o4i Designstudio’s ‘Zesty chair’ for Plycollection is an extremely light, plywood design, stackable up to 10 pieces and available in a natural or bright lacquered finish. Another stackable design is Claus Breinholt’s ‘PURE’ mensa chair for FROMvorRAT, a glossy plastic shell mounted on a changeable metal base. A more angular, clear-cut design is Hannes Wettstein’s ‘lyra esprit’, an all-wood stackable mensa chair with optional armrests and upholstered pads. Josep Lluscà’s ‘lama chair’ by Resol Barcelona Dd is a moulded polypropylene seat available in a variety of colours.
Konstantin Grcic’s 2009 ‘Monza armchair 1209-40’ for Plank combines a wooden base and a polypropylene backrest, while Richard Hutten’s ‘That Chair’ for Lensvelt is a more serious affair that marries minimal use of materials in its steel-rod base with optimal ergonomic support in its padded seat. Lastly, Casala-manufactured ‘Riva’ mensa chair by Zooey Chu is a folding, multi-purpose design with an angular flat-bar structure, a rigid seat and a supple, mesh backrest.