Chelsea Blahut

Architects are no strangers to chair design. From Marcel Breuer to Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, they have long put their own twist on the age-old, ergonomic object.

Drawing from a series of his own watercolors, Cuban artist Alex Arrechea took the humble seat to another level—literally. In his installation "Katrina Chairs" at the Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival, an assembly of four building-like forms repose within massive, canary-yellow chairs. But the larger-than-life installation has roots deeper than the temporary festival.

Back in 2007, Arrechea came up with a similar design (inspired by the aforementioned watercolors) likened to a bridge, playing on the idea of foundations in response to the issues and aftermath surrounding the devastation of New Orleans following Hurricane Katrina in 2005. Fast forward to this past year, when Arrechea met with Coachella art director Paul Clemente and they together decided to reconfigure the original design into four separate chairs. The result: “Katrina Chairs.” To illustrate the immense ramifications of the natural disaster, Arrechea decided bigger was better—although he never dreamed it would become this big. Standing 50 feet tall and about 19 feet wide each, the installation “tries to amplify the issue,” the artist says.

Chelsea Blahut

“It is important to always remember Hurricane Katrina,” Arrechea says, “but this could happen anywhere.” To illustrate the ubiquity of natural and man-made disasters, Arrechea designed the chair-structures with general, minimalist forms in order to blend in with the architectural aesthetic of any city, rather than just that of New Orleans.

The chair and building forms are shaped by a plywood-clad steel frame. Each piece was designed off-site in Cuba and then built in, and subsequently transferred, within California. Once there, the outer shells were painted bright yellow, trucked to the festival grounds, and assembled. The final touches included a paint job of the vibrant hue.

Chelsea Blahut

“I always wanted to use that particular color because it was so powerful and calls attention immediately,” Arrechea says. The color choice is inspired by a similar yellow in Dutch artist Vincent van Gogh’s 1889 painting, “The Field with a Reaper." Yellow can symbolize multiple things, given the context. But in this instance, it is a welcome sign, beckoning festival goers to sit underneath it.

Due to their size, the constructions provide shade and a gathering place from the unforgiving desert sun. “The functionality of the piece is what makes it attractive,” Arrechea says. “People can find refuge.”

Selin Ashaboglu
Chelsea Blahut

This article was originally featured on our sister site, ARCHITECT.