From a distance, the 3-D printed Degenerate Chair–made from a mixture of sugar, sake, and plaster–looks a little like something you might find growing in a forest. Up close, though, it’s suddenly possible to see the 3 billion pixels that make up the design.
London-based architect and designer Daniel Widrig modeled the stool using the same techniques that video game designers and animators use to create realistic objects on the screen; three-dimensional pixels, or “voxels,” are baked together to make a high-resolution surface.
“We like the idea of fluid, almost natural formations in contrast to more technical, man-made structures,” Widrig says. “The pixelation was just the most powerful option in regards to this idea.”
The detailed design also relates to the Widrig’s other work in building design. “The chair, with its intricate structural features and almost cathedral or dome-like space underneath, features quite a few of the ideas we are currently exploring,” he says.
The chair ended up in sugar and sake partly by chance. Widrig had lined up an industrial 3-D printer to manufacture the object using a stereolithography printing process, but then the printer pulled out of the project. Widrig started experimenting with a DIY recipe that mixes sugar with plaster and binds everything with sake.
After some tweaking–since the original recipe turned out parts that were a little too fragile and rough–Widrig and his team created a mixture that would work for the project. They were also able to print the chair on a smaller, personal-size 3-D printer by making the stool in pieces.
The resulting chair is strong enough to use as a regular piece of furniture, despite the intricate detail. As far as the designers know, it’s the first time something functional of this size has been printed with these materials.
It also happens to be incredibly cheap to make. The recommended material for the printer is made by only one company, and expensive. The official binder is also pricey–one liter costs around $275 while Widrig bought a liter of sake for about $11.
“Sake just happens to have the right percentage of alcohol and the right viscosity for the 3-D printer to run smoothly,” he says. “With our process we can print parts for just 4% of the original cost.”
While Widrig points out that the recipe doesn’t work for all 3-D printing, and only with machines that use plaster-based materials, he thinks it could become a useful, affordable alternative. His team plans to keep developing the process.
The Degenerate Chair is on exhibit now in a show called “Naturalizing Architecture,” about the relationship between digital architecture and the sciences, at the FRAC Center in Orléans, France.