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Why this pine stool is a design standout of 2023

A piece of furniture with a carved curved seat has been chosen as this year’s chair at MPavilion, a summer-long design festival in Melbourne. From the upcoming Young Rich issue, out on October 27.

Stephen ToddDesign editor

Over the past decade, the annual MPavilion program has changed Melbourne’s cultural landscape – literally. A hit list of high-profile international architects – including Rotterdam’s Rem Koolhaas, Carme Pinós from Barcelona and Bijoy Jain of Mumbai, as well as Australia’s only Pritzker-awarded architect, Glenn Murcutt – have designed temporary structures for it. The structures are installed on the same site in the Queen Victoria Gardens over the summer, and then repurposed elsewhere around the city.

The program of events, workshops and talks draws people from around the country, and has been getting more bums on seats each year. Although the seating acts in a supporting role, it is nonetheless intrinsic to the performance. A special commission is awarded each time to a designer or architect to create a chair or stool to populate the pavilion.

The Circle | Square stool designed for Melbourne’s MPavilion 10 festival starting next month. 

This year’s seat is created by Melbourne architect Robert Davidov. It’s in synch with the minimalist aesthetic of MPavilion 10 designed by Japanese architect Tadao Ando, who inspires an almost religious reverence for the concrete poetry of his rigorously ascetic structures. “Ando’s work has been deeply influential on my practice,” admits Davidov, who did a pilgrimage to Japan a few years back, notably to the “art island” of Naoshima. There, over 30 years, Ando has designed and delivered seven gently monolithic buildings, including a purpose-designed structure to house a hauntingly immersive James Turrell light installation.

Responding to Ando’s MPavilion design, which is essentially an open-ended square concrete volume surmounted by an aluminium disc, Davidov’s seat – called, aptly enough, the Circle | Square stool – is composed of seven identical 389-millimetre off-the-shelf lengths of radiata pine, structured to form slits that allow light to pass through, offsetting its apparent massing.

The display of MPavilion seats alongside icons of 20th-century design at the Powerhouse Museum. 

The similarities to Ando’s most famous building, the Church of the Light in Osaka, with light streaming through the crucifix incised in its concrete carapace, is compelling. “The exploration of pure geometry is a signature of Ando’s work,” says Davidov, “yet we sensed the freedom of the MPavilion brief allowed a design response that was truly singular. The stool needed to resonate with the pavilion in a simple, effortless way.” In fact, the design is so reductive that Davidov reckons “it almost designed itself”.

Previous designs have riffed off their architectural contexts in different ways. For MPavilion 6 in 2019, Melbourne designer Chris Connell echoed the curvature of Murcutt’s aerodynamic structure. Last year’s recycled plastic stools by Canberra Design Lab jived nicely with the billowing cellular “marquee” devised by Bangkok-based (all)zone architecture studio.

For 2020, the COVID year when programming was dispersed to open-air venues, Melbourne’s BoardGrove Architects created the discombobulated Dolly chair with a 1.5-metre-wide back to encourage social distancing. Koolhaas, Pinós, Jain and the inaugural MPavilion architect Sean Godsell (who this year has the responsibility of executing Ando’s vision) all created bespoke seating.

An example of each of the 10 MPavilion seats was recently given to Sydney’s Powerhouse Museum by Naomi Milgrom, whose eponymous foundation is the initiator and driver of the annual architectural and cultural program. They are displayed alongside icons of 20th-century design by Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, Gerrit Rietveld and Marc Newson.


“The annual Chair Commission is an important design outcome for MPavilion, embraced by both established and emerging designers,” Milgrom tells The Australian Financial Review Magazine. “Each year, we eagerly wait to see the creative responses to our call-out. As the competition has grown, it’s been harder and harder to shortlist and choose the winning design, so I was thrilled that Tadao Ando himself agreed to select this year’s winner.”

The ribbed, translucent recycled plastic stools by Canberra Design Lab for last year’s MPavilion event. 

For Davidov, it was an opportunity to create work in conversation with the Osaka-based “atelier” established by Ando in 1969, adopting the French term as a reflection of his admiration, in turn, for Le Corbusier. The through-lines from French to Japanese to Australian modernism means Davidov’s design is simultaneously future-facing and inscribed in a 100-year history. It’s this that makes the seat, in all its evident simplicity, resonate beyond itself.

“Our approach to designing the stool for Ando’s pavilion was the same as we take to our own architectural projects,” says Davidov, who set up his studio just over a decade ago. “It’s all about problem solving.” He plans to make the Circle | Square stool available commercially, in oak or perhaps ash – noble materials that reflect their architectural intent. A bit of design history, a museum piece in fact, for the home.

MPavilion 10 designed by Tadao Ando will open in the Queen Victoria Gardens on November 16 and run until March 28, next year.

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Stephen Todd
Stephen ToddDesign editorStephen Todd writes for The Australian Financial Review's weekly Life&Leisure lift out and AFR Magazine. Email Stephen at

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