Chester Zoo’s Wild Worlds Festival is officially open, bringing a new twist to teaching children about the animal world with nine interactive installations, including three giant talking chairs made from MEDITE TRICOYA EXTREME (MTX).
Designed by artist Jane Revitt, each chair is unique and custom-made for Chester Zoo, home of TV’s “The Secret Life of the Zoo”, by 3D designers and furniture makers Wood & Wire. They are fitted with a sound system that activates when a button is pressed, talking about the animals they overlook.
“I thought the idea to build talking chairs would be perfect for the Zoo, especially for the Wild Worlds Festival,” said Jane, in an interview. The challenge was finding the perfect material that combined an ethos of environmentalism with the fun, interactive atmosphere of the Zoo.
Jane explained: “Although the chairs are a central element of the festival, they’ll continue to be there for the foreseeable future. If they were more temporary, I could have used many other products that were not so robust, but I needed something that would definitely last in the elements. Therefore, I chose MTX for its guarantee of up to 50 years in outdoor conditions and the fact that it’s manufactured using sustainable wood.” All the wood that goes into MTX is sourced from sustainable forests.
Peter Clifton, MTX Product Manager of manufacturers MEDITE SMARTPLY, commented: “MTX is the perfect product for this project. Where the chair sits in the ground, in contact with soil, it is guaranteed for 25 years, while above ground it will last 50 years. This means one or two generations of children can enjoy and learn from the important messages of these chairs.”
“The unique composition of MTX definitely influenced my designs of the chairs,” Jane explained. “For example, all the panels in the chairs are vertical, as that’s how they bear weight best. It is also a material that has allowed me to be very creative. The intricate two-dimensional shapes we were able to cut out of the MTX panels has allowed me to create three very sculptural chairs.”
Furniture maker Jim Leach was responsible for translating Jane’s designs into the real thing. He said: “Creating the talking chairs was one of the more challenging projects we’ve had to date. Many hours were spent translating Jane’s designs into accurate CAD geometry, which then allowed us to cut the individual shapes from MTX using a CNC router.
“We assembled the chairs by stacking the individual shapes using various thicknesses of spacers between them, giving the chairs a more interesting tapered form in 3D. We were working on this for about a month.”
He also notes that: “There are not many other materials that can compare to MTX. Using plywood for this project just would not have worked. MTX was great to shape and machine in the ways we were challenged with.”
Each chair sits in its own garden at Chester Zoo, designed by Jane in collaboration with the Zoo’s horticultural team. The bright pink Flamingo Chair sits in the centre of the Flamingo Garden, overlooking the flamingos in their lake. The Catmint Chair, sprouting green leaves, is surrounded by the Enrichment Garden, planted with a variety of herbs, vegetables and flowers. The chair tells visitors why catmint and other plants are grown for the Zoo’s lions and other animals.
Finally, the Thorn Bush Chair overlooks the black rhinos, reminding onlookers of their rarity. It is hoped that this chair in particular will bring an increased awareness amongst school age children of the very near extinction black rhinos face. The chair also features a silhouette of an Oxpecker bird, which can often be seen perching on the backs of rhinos in the wild.
The Wild Worlds Festival opened on 25th May and will run all summer until 30th September.
Jane Revitt started making talking chairs in 2001 for the Royal Festival Hall and now makes chairs for schools, museums and libraries, theatres and festivals all over the country. Visit her website here: www.janerevitt.co.uk
Wood and Wire are based in Hebden Bridge. More details on them can be found here: www.woodandwire.co.uk