Wednesday, 8 December 2010

Chairs - size matters...

Working with VS in Germany recently, I was pleased to spend some time in their incredible 'in-house' education museum. This really large centre charts the history of classroom furniture throughout the twentieth century, with exhibits from all over Europe and other countries including the USA.

It was quite an eye opener for me as to how much emphasis was made as early as the 1900's in getting chair and desk height right for individual students. Included was the device created to ensure appropriately designed furniture for students.
As early as 1930 school desk design was based on a programme of systematic measurements to obtain characteristic data for school children of all ages and heights. Measurements included the length of the leg from the sole of the foot to the knee. This was needed to calculate the height of the seat, and the height of the elbow above the sole of the foot in the correct sitting position to calculate the height of the desk.To obtain these anthropometric data, Dr Stephani, a school doctor from Mannheim, developed a device for measuring body dimensions. The data could then be used to establish the parameters for ergonomic design of school desks, particularly with a view to preventing spinal disorders.
Equally important was a range of alterable furniture to allow students to raise the foot board and seat height(see photo above) to be most appropriate for the student to use the desk comfortably.
It all really makes me wonder as schools buy furniture today. The FF&E (furniture, fixtures and equipment) budgets are always amongst the first to be cut in budget savings. Many companies do base furniture design on extensive research, but far too many schools are now just buying the cheapest designs possible: standard tables, standard chairs - one size fits all.
Ergonomics really are absolutely vital to students to be able to concentrate fully without the issue of discomfort distracting them from learning. Regular readers will know that this is a real priority for me. If it was so important nearly a century ago combined with the fact that we know far more about how important ergonomics are, I don't understand why we now think one size fits all is good enough - it isn't!!
Dr Mannheim's device in use....

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