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Trend Research: FutureCraft Home - Artisanal-Tech Furniture

The combination of new technologies and manual skills, handed down from generation to generation, is proving fertile ground for both process and product innovation. The tools available to digital craftsmen allow them to experiment not just with new looks and modes of expression but also with new collaborative practices between designers and the people who will actually use their products. 

This combination, which is put to the test in Fab Labs, or the new open source design platforms, takes the personalisation of furniture, furnishings and accessories to a whole new level in the evolutionary scale, enabling anybody to play a direct part in building their own domestic environment

Looking forward at the development of what is currently a technology at the embryo stage – 3D printing – it is not hard to imagine a near future in which its diffusion could transform the home itself into a place capable of producing its own “components”. 

Opendesk is an English platform based in the London district of Hackney, which makes designs for chairs, tables/desks and shelving available online; these can then be produced locally in any part of the world. People can have paid access to the designers’ files, download them and have their own piece of furniture created by the maker or Fab Lab on duty, using locally available materials.

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The basic concept, that a piece of furniture that can be bought and downloaded from the website, rests not only on a production chain that starts in the digital world and ends in the physical one, but also on a network that puts people in touch with both the designer and the nearest maker/craftsman. The production technology is very accessible and is based on easily assembled models that can be put together by anyone, some of which can be customised with ad hoc accessories. 

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This streamlined and participatory model helps provide a showcase for designers and creatives on one hand, while also enabling part of the production process to be delegated by giving people an active role in creating furnishings that they will then use in their homes or workplaces. 

The Buenos Aires-based furnishing company Sudacas has put its personal slant on the concept of digital craftsmanship. Sudacas works with the multi award-winning Argentinian designer and architect Alejandro Sticotti, to produce commissioned pieces only, live streaming the entire production cycle online. 

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The furniture is made by craftsmen, using only certified wood from registered, ethically managed South American forests. It is worked by hand in workshops/laboratories, generates no wasted stock and is sold at fair prices, circumventing discount policies that would fail to respect their authenticity or manual craftsmanship. 

In line with its sustainable and transparent philosophy, and conscious of the importance people now place on the origin of the products they decide to buy, the company makes it possible for whoever orders one of their pieces to watch it being made live via a webcam that shows how the work is progressing. The design of the clothes stands and bookcases by Sticotti – a wood virtuoso – pays homage to the roots of the areas in which they grow, using raw materials and with a predilection for clean, essential lines. 

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Rapid-Liquid Printing – developed by the Self-Assembly Lab at MIT (Massachusetts Institute of Technology) – could prove to be a breakthrough for 3D printing and make this technology much more “appetising” from a design perspective. The technique enables the constraints of current 3D printers to be overcome, making for greater speed and greater choice of materials.

The company worked with American furniture company Steelcase to develop and test the process – in which raw materials such as rubbers, plastics and polyurethanes are extruded from a nozzle, like toothpaste from a tube, in order to physically “design” the object inside a vat of gel, enabling custom products to be made on demand with great precision and speed. The two components making up the liquid are mixed inside the nozzle and harden when extruded. The printed object can therefore be removed from the gel, obviating the need for a further solidification process. All this throws open a huge range of possibilities for the production of even large-scale furniture and furnishing accessories, making for a customisation tool with almost infinite potential.  

Appearance-wise, objects created in this way take on an organic look, as if made by brushstrokes, and are reminiscent of the branches of a plant. Steelcase worked with Swiss designer Christophe Guberan of MIT to produce a coffee table with a 3D lace tabletop to demonstrate the potential of the technology. The tabletop for the coffee table in the Bassline collection by Turnstone (a Steelcase brand) was created in just under half an hour