The chair looks like something that must have been grown in a lab. Its webbed panels look like they were woven by tree roots or spider webs. In fact, this chair has been 3D-printed with the help of computer algorithms. And even more impressively? The whole thing collapses down to the size of a Trapper Keeper when it’s not in use.
Premiering at this year’s Milan Furniture Fair, the Tamu chair is the latest work from industrial designer Patrick Jouin and the 3D engineering software company Dassault Systèmes. Developed over several months of work, the chair’s structure exploits tensegrity–in other words, a network of components, some of which are in tension and others in compression, to support the weight of the sitter. It was designed through a combination of algorithms and human input. “Engineering software, with its efficiency goal, under the impulse of the designer, becomes a tool that unveils the form,” says Jouin. “In this case, part of object design is no longer just the result of the designer’s thinking, but now combined with the computer’s results.” (For another taste of what generative design looks like in chairs, see what Philipe Starck did this year with Autodesk.)
But the charm is really in the chair’s user experience, despite its avant-garde structure. Its hinged panels can fold into one another and allow the chair to pack flat. That mix of philosophies, of generative design and flat packing, makes the Tamu chair something like an MIT research project remixed through the lens of Ikea sensibilities. It all makes for a strange and wonderful combination, what Jouin describes as, “a little bit of magic, and the realization that we can use less space and material as possible to design a sustainable world,” given that a perfectly 3D-printed chair should have zero waste by definition.
Jouin would like to bring his chair to market, eventually. But for now, he admits there are still some engineering challenges to overcome. The goal is for the chair to be produced in one, continuous, 48-hour 3D print process. However, to finish the project for display at Milan, they cheated a touch, printing the chair’s 1,643 pieces and assembling them by hand.
“But we are working on it!” Jouin assures us.