#11 – Digging Into the 3-D Printing Revolution

Op-ed Digging into the Revolution of 3-D Printing

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Given today’s advances in 3-D printing technology, it is already possible to print eyes, noses and internal organs. We will send 3-D printers capable of printing other printers to Mars to build a new colony. Synthetic biological materials will be printed in the form of self-repairing tissue. Even food will be produced in this way: Certain machines such as the Cocojet for chocolate and Chefiet for sugar are already available. Chloè Rutzerveld’s “Edible Growth” project doesn’t limit itself to shaping the raw materials, but envisages printing a small, edible complex in which the food can grow and develop until the moment it will be eaten. In architecture, it is already possible to create entire buildings.

Chloè Rutzerveld’s “Edible Growth” project

Today, in the face of rapid changes in a variety of fields, does it make sense to still talk of 3-D printing for furniture design?

In my opinion, the evolution of this technology in the area of furniture design is following three main pathways. In the first, its use offers a faster, more economical way to reproduce objects, components and parts that, if manufactured otherwise, would be impossible or too expensive to make, or result in a less accurate reproduction.

The second is that it offers the possibility of an aesthetic and formal solution that would be difficult to achieve with other materials, expanding vision and creating novel forms impossible to produce otherwise. The third is the convergence and interaction of the first two.

“It offers the possibility of an aesthetic and formal solution.”

Doubtless, in the realm of furniture design, it is not so much the reproduction of forms that already exist that leads to the use of 3-D printing, but rather the desire to imagine a new aesthetic and new functions. A range of options is open to the creator, who must learn to understand and control them to achieve the desired result. A good project is born of the very technology that makes it possible. In this, 3-D printing is no exception. It must be an integral part of the process in which the idea leads to the definition of the form.

Ilabo by Ross Lovegrove for United NudeIn addition, many avenues are opening in the area of formal creation. At the extremes, we find on the one hand that the technology pushes back the limits for consciously creating extreme, futuristic objects. In the area of fashion accessories, we should note the aesthetic of the Dutch United Nude project. This includes 3-D-printed shoes designed by, among others, Zaha Hadid and Ross Lovegrove, in which the potential of this method is stretched, leading to the creation of a new vision that anticipates taste years in advance.

On the other hand, we find the method being used to create a familiar, everyday schema, but in a new language. Unfold Studio’s Stratigraphic Manufactury, for example, uses 3-D-printed ceramics to spawn new forms, though characterized by the warmth of traditional materials, in which the imperfections of shape and color make the objects more familiar, as if they were already present in our daily environment. They also started the Transaction Project of blowing glass in 3-D printed ceramics with ceramicist Jonathan Keep and artist researcher Charles Stern.



Generally, my projects begin with thinking about what exists and how it came about. Many of them are based specifically on the transposition of outmoded formal or technical solutions recontextualized in the present. I used this same process in the design of the Cora and Lea lamps, lighting fixtures born from my collaboration with the Italian firm .exnovo. The volumes of the lampshades draw their inspiration from kitchen fixtures of the 1960s. The guilloche texture of the shades evokes the subtle decorative filigrane used beginning in the 1800s. During the design phase, I consciously chose not to distance myself too much from the aesthetics of contemporary furniture. My goal was to update forms inherited from the past by using them in an entirely new mode.

By using an additive printing process, I was able to work on a continuous form. A circular section moves along wavy lines that intertwine (never complicated by knots) and close back on themselves. During the modeling process I was able to work on ever smaller sections (down to 3 mm), which lends a surprising lightness to the lampshade.

However, at the same time I chose to reproduce the subtle texture of the guilloche, which used to be produced in gold or silver filigrane, the only materials whose molecular structure combines subtlety and strength. I thought that today the only way to reproduce these forms at moderate cost and without recourse to artisans would be to use 3-D printing. As I said, the idea for this project incorporates the technology used to produce it.

The formal and technological revolution we are witnessing is in some ways similar to the advent of plastics in the ‘50s and ‘60s. It was possible to play with plastics thanks to the variety of colors, degree of transparency and lightness of form. A new aesthetic is spreading and entire companies devoted to this specific type of production are springing up.

Today, thanks to 3-D printing, we can think in terms of thickness, organic shapes and parametric curves. It is finally possible to break through the limits imposed by traditional production. However, in my opinion, this doesn’t mean that we must design strange shapes. We should maintain continuity with tradition, while exploring ongoing evolution.


About the Author

Serena Confalonieri is an independent Italian designer working on interior, graphic and textile design projects.

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