## Sitting on a formula. Tullio Regge and the Gufram Detecma Chair: When a physicist meets design

In 1967, Carlo Tondato (born 1932), manager and physicist by training, proposed to Tullio Regge (1931-2014), who was one of the greatest scholars in 20th Century Physics, to design a chair inspired by a mathematical project. Later on, Gufram, a creative workshop, would produce the chair. Gufram’s aim was to produce contemporary furniture for the firm ‘Fratelli Gugliermetto’. The firm had been active in Grosso (TO) since 1952. In that period the creative director of Gufram was Giuseppe Raimondi (1941-1997), a pioneer architect and designer who accomplished a number of projects using new forms and materials, like Styrofoam, with the help of a group of emerging artists.

In Tullio Regge’s book *The Infinite Search: autobiography of a curious man* he wrote about the genesis of the project this way:

"At the beginning of the ‘70s, I used to keep in my home a few models of geometric figures, inspired by algebraic equations. Those models were very different one from the other: some were totally abstract while others resembled strange butterflies. I used to build tri-dimensional structures with brass mesh and a welder. […] I remember that it took me three days to build the model of a particular Dupin cyclide that is called ‘ring shaped’. I describe it to you because the story related to that model does not end here. Imagine a doughnut, and then section it. The two sections are circles. Now imagine that the radius of the section becomes bigger and bigger to its maximum extent and then goes back to its initial level. At the center of the section, you have a hole like in any normal doughnut, but the ring you have obtained looks as if it has swollen on a side.

The characteristic I found funnier was that one could build the model of a cyclide only by using circles of different radiuses. I saw a clay model of a Dupin cyclide in the wonderful book of Hilbert and Cohn-Vossen, and I really loved it, so I built a metal structure of it just for me, using some brass mesh and a small welder (solder). The job took me three days of work. In the end, I was quite happy of my artwork, and when it was finished, I put it on my desk, as an ornament. […]

At the beginning of the ‘70’s Carlo Tondato, who had a university degree in physics, was the manager of a well-established firm of plastic and rubber products. Back to those days, Carlo was also a neighbor of mine: he was also a curious, interesting and sensitive person. […] I remember that in those days, Carlo was chasing after a new idea for a designer artifact made of rubber, possibly a seat or an armchair. When he came to my home, he was absolutely fascinated seeing himself surrounded by a number of models of tri-dimensional geometrical figures. He was enthusiastic when he saw the model made with tin mesh, designed according to the cyclide that I have described. Proportions could be modified to fit a human being, changing for instance the thickness of the chair or the height of the backrest. Tondato asked me to build a comfortable structure, with correct anatomical proportions and mathematical elegance, as in the ‘golden section’. In short, after I created a small number of algebraic calculations, to guarantee that the backside could work as a backrest without altering the noble mathematical proportions of the chair, the project was actually done. The calculator worked out the correct measures in the blink of an eye. The project of an innovative chair, whose shape was the result of algebraic calculus, had been carried out thanks to a combination between design and science.

In the end, Detecma came out from Design + Technology + Mathematics.’ Detecma was a chair made by Gufram with cold expanded Styrofoam, and a differentiated surface (Guflex). The cover of the chair was made of an elastic tissue available in a wide range of monochromatic colors, which were a wink toward the psychedelic mode of those years. The mesures? Diameter 105 cm, height 55 cm, weight 15 kg.

The seat established itself quite well as a product design of that period, but it did not have a great commercial fortune. Later it became a piece for art collectors: there is one of them in the Three Year Museum in Milan. Recently, a Detecma has been auctioned for a fairly high price, so I felt like a real designer; also, some journalists showed photos of my artworks, celebrating them in several magazines.

A few years after the creation of Detecma, I kept some of those chairs in the garden of my home in Princeton. They were very comfortable to sit on, even in the snow: actually, it was a lot of fun.

The most common reaction at my chair was the one of the mathematicians, who usually frown on everything that is the result of applied mathematics, and especially a chair. The fun about it is that those mathematicians, after a cold start, sat on the chair with curiosity. The physicists, on the contrary, divided themselves in two groups: the enthusiasts and the others who refused to use the chair altogether.

In my humble opinion, the chairs were wonderful: actually, they did not have a headrest, but the particular shape allowed choosing the position that one liked better; and the cover tissues were beautiful as well.

After some time, Tondato asked me to design the project for a sofa. I refused for reasons of mathematical ideology: the experience I made with the chair taught me that the necessity to produce a real object, meant to be used, put too many limits to my thinking and deprived me from the freedom that I love.".

*Tullio Regge, L'infinito cercare: Autobiografia di un curioso, Einaudi, Torino 2012, pp. 179-181*

The Detecma chair is visible in some Museums of modern artwork. Nowadays it is again in production.(from 2014).