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Slag finds a new use in Sudbury-made office chairs

Architectural firm designing and building “active chair” containing smelting waste material

An architectural firm in Sudbury is coming up with a new way to recycle waste products with a local twist.

Danielson Architecture Office, Inc., is experimenting with making an “active chair” made from paper and slag, a waste product from smelting ore that was dumped on hills and left to cool to form a rock-like material.

“We have been working on a design for a chair that infuses more mobility into people's lives, especially in a workplace where one is confined to a chair,” said Patrick Danielson, principal architect.

The chair is designed and manufactured in the Regent Street office.

He explained people tend to not move much in a traditional chair, which affects blood flow and brain activity. If people move around, he explained, they are more engaged in their work.

Resembling a stool, it's made to act like a counterweight, with a light top and a heavy bottom.

The design includes a triangle-shaped seat open in the middle made of paper tubes, three support pillars descending on an angle to the base, which is spherical and contains slag, making the person seated in it constantly adjust their position to remain upright.

The seat also contains electronics monitoring the person's seating habits. There are controls inside tracking the duration and position someone sits, sending stimulation signals to alert the person when they have been seated or are leaning in one direction for too long.

The design is deliberate, Danielson said.

The hope is the seat will help people correct their posture and alleviate problems like stiffness and minimize long-term problems like back pain.

“As it is, the way the stool is designed it makes it feel really unnatural to slouch or lean forward. It makes people correct their posture,” he said.

“With electronic sensors, if they are leaning too much on one leg, the chair will sense that and send a hot/cold signal to the user so it can nudge them. It will encourage them to move around, stand more and various other healthy habits.”

Each one is tailored to an individual, taking into account their height and weight for a perfect fit.

They are also trying to make a product that is sustainable by using recycled materials. The support legs are cut from stock paper, then tailored, and the leftovers are shredded to be used as packing material.

The firm is using the chair as a revenue generator and as an experiment in other uses for slag.

In the past, slag was used for rail track beds and road filler. That was discontinued due to slag leaching heavy metals and other toxic substances into the environment.

“We are trying to work with those constraints and find ways to make use of slag,” Danielson said.

After more than a century and a half of mining in the Sudbury basin, there is a ready supply of material.

It's also a short-term project for much larger projects the firm and a related architectural firm in the same office is working on with the City of Greater Sudbury and nickel miner Vale to use slag as building material.

“What we would like to do is build an entire building with predominantly slag materials,” Danielson said. “But that was a hard objective to jump into. So we did the chair as a small study as how we can use slag in a practical way.”

They already have a few clients, a Kickstarter campaign and are working on the design to perfect it. He said It will be a few more months before it is available for wide commercial sale.

The project has been getting a lot of support from the city and federal government, Domtar and the Northern Heritage Fund Corporation. NORCAT has also been helping them with a mentoring program and regular meetings to discuss the design.