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Crazy Materials And Innovative Tech Are Reinventing The Humble Chair

Aluminum dust, cornstarch, and molded wood: at Salone del Mobile, new materials and processes reigned.

Crazy Materials And Innovative Tech Are Reinventing The Humble Chair
[Photo: ©Angel Fernandez Nuñez/courtesy Nagami]

Each year at Salone del Mobile, companies launch thousands of new furniture designs. Some of them pretty. Some–perhaps most–pretty boring.

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But the 2018 edition of the Milanese furniture fair offered up a refreshing twist on the common chair. Many companies debuted chairs that were actually fascinating experiments in materials and manufacturing–including these four, which use new technology or reinvent existing tech in surprising new ways.

Chairs Printed Out Of Cornstarch

Nagami is a new Spanish company that has invented a large-scale robotic arm system that uses polylactic acid pellets–a clean, non-toxic, biodegradable material made from cornstarch–to print furniture.

The flexibility Nagami’s system offers to designers is amazing, according to Ross Lovegrove, one of three designers the young company tapped to design chairs with the system. “Now I can create shapes that before I could only barely draw on paper,” says Lovegrove in the chair’s promotional video. In addition to his chair, titled Robotica, the company presented Peeler by Daniel Widrig and Bow and Rise by Zaha Hadid Architects. All of them are wildly organic thanks to shapes that the printer’s super-precise nozzle allows–they look like beasts that may spring to life at any moment.

Wood That Acts Like Plastic

Philippe Starck, designing a collection for Kartell, also used technology to reinvent a common material. In this case, Starck and Kartell developed a patented process that shapes wood in a way that was never possible before. While the company didn’t say much about the details (Starck says “we have finally created wooden seats that really express, thanks to the alliance with plastic, the true essence of wood”), its technology uses a molding technique that shapes wood veneer akin to the way you’d shape a piece of plastic–allowing wood to take on shapes that seem impossible, extending their curvature to new limits as you see in Starck’s designs above.

Borrowing From Luggage Design

Designer Konstantin Grcic created the Cup chair for the Italian furniture manufacturer Plank after becoming fascinated by something totally unrelated to furniture: luggage.

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He observed that the technology used for hard shell luggage could easily be used to manufacture strong, light seats as well. Those objects are extremely durable, strong, and can have any shape you want thanks to the luggage industry’s molding techniques used in their manufacturing. According to the Grcic, the process and geometry, which took plentiful research to develop, “combines structural strength with a high degree of flexibility and lightness.”

Aluminum Dust And Resin

Herman Miller’s new Cosm chairs were created by Berlin-based design company Studio 7.5, which employed an iterative design technique in which each chair prototype was physically built and tested thoroughly before making any modifications and building a new prototype. The company says it repeated the process as many times it needed to get “the perfect work chair.” The iterative process used a new 3D printing technology that mixes aluminum dust and resin to print models that are as functional as the ones that come out of the factory.

This process resulted in a body suspension system that they call “Auto-Harmonic Tilt.” The company says that this new system can adapt to any body shape without any adjustments, adapting dynamically to your posture so you “forget you’re sitting in a chair at all.” It almost sounds like Herman Miller invented a levitation machine.

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About the author

Jesus Diaz founded the new Sploid for Gawker Media after seven years working at Gizmodo, where he helmed the lost-in-a-bar iPhone 4 story. He's a creative director, screenwriter, and producer at The Magic Sauce and a contributing writer at Fast Company.

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