Open Source Furniture

Open Source Furniture

The sharing revolution has changed the planet. The way we call a cab, the way we holiday, how we work and live. And as often happens, what begins as a bold new phenomenon becomes normalised and must evolve to head off new challenges, or be replaced by the next big idea. Trudging around shops to buy DVD’s is pre-historic, we now stream and share the cost of ownership with monthly prescriptions. And in a world of spiralling ownership costs, millennials are leading the sharing revolution.

So why can’t we share design?

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“Laser cutting and 3D printing….”

Open source refers to a code made available online to be refined, improved and infinitely shared. Originally applied to computer software, open source furniture is one of the most searched-for subtopics of the sharing genre. Laser cutting and 3D printing – once mythical ideas – are commonplace in workshops across the globe. Combine open source design with affordable hi-tech local production and we have a furniture revolution in the making, driven by the Maker Movement.

Open Source, Opendesk

Opendesk are a new breed of furniture manufacturer, disrupting the typical consumer supply route. They have become synonymous with open source furniture, linking designers and makers to the general public via an online platform. “Designed to be downloaded and made locally”, they’ve embraced the democratic nature of open source, inviting critique and feedback in order to improve design, processes and sustainability. See for yourself.

What were initially limited and clunky designs have developed, multiplied and improved albeit there is a clear design language within much of the collection due to the limitations of materials used and the inherent ‘simplicity’ of production and assembly.  Opendesk count Greenpeace, Impact Hub and Digital Ocean amongst their corporate clients and are currently featured in Vitra Design Museum’s Hello Robot exhibition – a sure sign of their success. But how far will the movement evolve?

To get the opinion of a true maker with sustainable ideals, I chatted to Rainer Kyburz – Director of Basel-based Kyburz Made and self-confessed furniture addict, who is enthused by the trend.

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Kyburz Made: old materials lovingly restored and unique – the opposite of open source?

“This movement is a perfect example of globalisation.” says Rainer, “We should make the best out of it and use it in a sensible way. Transportation of resources is optimised, local Materials can be used, or sent in Bulk as a single product to the customer, often flatpacked. Information as to how to produce something is shared and accessible. New international interdisciplinary cooperations are developed and ironically, creativity is pushed by the very limitation that a product has to be designed to allow it to be produced on the other side of the globe.”

That’s an interesting point. The very limitations imposed by remote access, production and logistics can in fact be a design catalyst. So where’s the down side?  “At present, the limitations of production techniques” explains Rainer, “but this will evolve over time. Quality control could also prove difficult as the complete product does not come from an individual provider.” Indeed. Using a vast network or supply chain means results may vary.

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Manufacturing techniques are constantly evolving

We’re currently seeing a boom in plywood, coworking and tech-style interior schemes and this theme fits perfectly – not just in terms of design, but also target audience. But playing Devil’s advocate, in the words of the Dragons Den cash wad stroking suits, Is it truly scalable? Will production limitations prohibit development beyond the techniques and materials currently used, or will it evolve to integrate other materials, upholstery and ‘internet of things’ style tech? Keep your eyes on Opendesk who have a few interesting new developments in the pipeline.

“Could designers end up as disgruntled cabbies, who’s time served knowledge is kicked to the kerb…?”

Cutting out middle men and delivering design direct to the people, open source furniture promises to be the uber of the industry, but in the highly competitive field of furniture design, could designers end up as disgruntled cabbies, who’s time served knowledge is kicked to the kerb. With real people power undertones, the complex topic of design ownership is widely discussed on the open making site.

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Herman Miller use 3D printing to speed up R+D process

And what of the big furniture players in contract and retail – Will IKEA offer open source production any time soon? Herman Miller (amongst others) are already using 3D printing to significantly speed up their R+D process. Maybe they feel open source is best left to the DIY-ers, or the margin just isn’t there. Smartphone apps to convert 2D images into 3D CAD files for printing and 3D printers are universally available, meaning anyone can be a maker in the market. Where that will leave intellectual property rights is yet to be seen.

Part Man, part Machine

Is the online maker movement the arch nemesis to the traditional craft movement?  Do the two meet somewhere in a ply bar at CDW to exchange notes over a craft beer, or would they end up in a Anchorman style barfight using downloaded ply chairs versus handmade oiled oak barstools? Personally, I think we will definitely see more ‘fusing’ of different production techniques across the industry as even old school manufacturers wise up to the benefits. Tech meets tradition. Furniture that is part man, part machine. Solid wood chair frames with 3D printed seat and backs and open source design with locally produced upholstery. One thing’s for sure, sharing isn’t going anywhere – it’s only just begun.

Until next time, you stay classy.

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Craft versus Tech at CDW

 

Ben Capper is an award winning Interior Specialist based in Zürich Switzerland, working with Zingg Lamprecht AG on interior and furniture projects for commercial clients. Ben has 20 years experience as a trusted independent consultant to Architects and Interior Designers having completed projects such as Manchester United stadium expansion, private Airport lounges, University campuses and 1000 person office schemes.        b.capper@zingg-lamprecht.ch

 

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Green is the new Black

Green is the new Black

You’d be hard pressed to go a day in design circles without coming across numerous references to biophilic design. As globalisation fuelled dramatic urban growth over recent decades, changing how we live and work, we were for a time kidded into thinking we must make a choice between our modern built environment and nature. We’ve since had a green awakening.

In our cities and workplaces the removal of trees and greenery ‘in the name of progress’ produces a negative effect on how we feel, reducing our sense of wellbeing and ultimately our performance. Inhabiting cities without trees and workplaces devoid of plants or natural light is not a pleasant thought. Perhaps we needed to be reminded of a simple fact we had forgotten: Nature makes us feel good.

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Highline, New York

Now that the penny has dropped, the race is on to correct our mistakes with the mass introduction of biophilic design and green architecture. And there have been notable successes. New York’s Highline is a case in point with visitor numbers off the charts. Notably, this project is 98% funded by community group ‘Friends of the Highline’ and has had a huge positive impact on surrounding areas.

Singapore’s Gardens by the Bay (below) sprawls over 250 acres and confirms the city’s place at the head of the Biophilic table. Featuring metal clad solar powered ‘trees’ covered with tropical flowers and with raised interconnecting walkways, the park comes alive at night with a light and sound show.

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Thomas Heatherwick Studio received both acclaim and criticism for their New York and London schemes. Both are now set to go ahead, with London’s Garden Bridge (main image above) heckled along the way. With the proven successes of New York and Singapore, I fail to see how such a positive green addition can be anything other than a huge benefit to a large modern city.

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Heather wick’s Pier 55, NYC – 

Many of us lucky enough to attend Saloni Milano will have noticed Stefano Boeri’s Vertical Forest, combining high density living with as many trees as a hectare of forest. These modern buildings challenge the perception that urban green spaces should be either horizontal or disruptive to the financial yield. The integration of greenery into the very fabric of our buildings has become a sought after addition to our living and working spaces.

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Vertical Forest, Milan

 

Vertical greenery also translates to interior environments. A leading trend at last year’s Orgatec saw industrial open modular shelving units providing a home to lush greenery in the workplace, acting as a calming visual barrier whilst improving air quality. Combine this with natural materials and natural light and its no surprise that the ’employee experience’ is much more positive and productive.

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Etsy, Brooklyn NY. Image credit: Garret Rowland

Recent years have also seen a rapid growth in the use of living walls in the workplace. Based on the same principles, this approach can add much needed greenery to an expensive floorplate with maximum efficiency. If you look carefully you might even find David Bellamy and a couple of squirrel monkeys in there somewhere.

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In a recent interview Danish starchitect Bjarke Ingels commented “All humans inhabit the same amount of real estate: Earth. We have the power to adapt our physical surroundings to life – imagine what we can do… Once you’ve accepted that there’s no way we (humans) can be here without having a very significant influence on our planet, we should take it as a positive. Instead of having unanticipated negative social and environmental side effects, we should design our world so we have positive social and environmental side effects.”

If we apply this theory not just in terms of the wider built environment, but also in terms of our immediate interiors and the micro-architecture with which we come into contact on a daily basis, it is also very valid indeed.

The idea of ‘shared space’ (or real estate) as a communal facility is more relevant today than ever with sprawling tech work ‘campuses’ being built and the rise of transitional spaces currently used for coworking. These interior environments and our performance within them is a science. If we make a list of what humans need to survive it begins with oxygen, water, food, shelter and sleep. As we work down the list beyond healthcare and clothing etc, the points become less ‘obligatory’ and more ‘optional’ – but important to our performance nonetheless. Where would you put wifi, good coffee and friendly colleagues on the list for example?

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Mankind adapts to its modern environment

In a micro but measurable way, the conditions in our immediate surroundings influence our productivity, well-being and performance. Just because we have MacBooks and Ugg boots doesn’t mean we can ignore our basic needs. Each tick in the box results in an improvement. And some score more points than others. Adjustable lighting: tick. Ergonomics: tick. Acoustic screen between you and shouty loud bloke: tick.

As interiors people we aim to positively influence and improve these environments. We should all be encouraging our clients to integrate plants, natural materials as well as spaces to walk, sit and relax among them into interior schemes. Let’s make micro-parks within our offices, gardens in our public libraries and small forests in our lobbies. Let’s put nature back into our cities, workplaces and lives.

What could possibly go wrong…?

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Furnishing the future

Furnishing the future

A little over 11 years ago I was involved in bringing Vitra Design Museum’s world renowned 100 Years 100 Chairs exhibition to Manchester – with a fantastic team and supported by an enthusiastic Architecture Community. It was the acclaimed exhibition’s first visit to an English speaking country. Another first for Manchester, birthplace of the Industrial Revolution, Joy Division, the Post Punk music movement, the Hacienda, the worlds first Computer and the city where Rolls met Royce. This exhibition at CUBE Gallery was its most successful ever, with between 12-14000 visitors during it’s 10 week stay and national press coverage. One architect simply referred to it as ‘Chair Porn’. Suppose it’s a bit snappier, but google search results would vary.

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The exhibition further ignited my passion for furniture design. Cleverly curated, with a chair to represent each year of the last century, a walk through the stands took you on a journey through an evolving, humorous, odd, weird and wonderful world. From Hoffman’s Sitzmachine to Breuer’s Wassily Chair. From Le Corbusier’s LC4 to Eames Plastic chairs. As you progressed through decades of design, you were immersed into the roaring 30’s, post World War austerity and the beginnings of globalisation, progressing to the freedom of the 60’s, funky 70’s fashion, 80’s pop culture and 90’s acid house.

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Aside from visibly evolving trends, fashions and design styles, one of the leading influences in the evolution of furniture design is advances in production methods and discovery of new materials. The exhibition underlined the Eames’ thirst to understand and conquer new materials -from plywood, to metal, to fibre glass. Later, designers like Martyn Van Severen and Philippe Starck would further this progression with with aluminium, plastics and polyurethane.

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Marc Newson’s Lockheed Lounge chair (1986)
I was reminded of the exhibition recently when I saw Jorge Pensi’s Toledo chair – previously made (and featured) in cast aluminium – now produced as a single piece of injected polypropylene following manufacturing advances. A fantastic chair, that was often priced out of projects – the redesign in polypropylene gives a new lease of life to a cult classic.

“like trying to write a book in one continuous movement with your pen never leaving the page”

One of the biggest global influences of modern and future furniture production is 3D printing. There are a growing number of design studios developing furniture and interior products to be produced solely by 3D printers. Due to the continuous nature of the 3D printing process -like trying to write a book in a continuous movement with your pen never leaving the page –  the designs are still very much evolving. But it’s here, it’s happening and it’s progress.

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Barber Osgerby’s London 2012 Olympic Torches were 3D printed
Back in my home city of Manchester there is a wave of new Government backed University buildings full of scientists pondering over Graphene, the new wonder material that is more solid than steel and a better conductor than copper. Terence Woodgate and John Barnard already explored the inherent rigidity of carbon fibre to design a table up to three metres in length with an ultra thin top and just four legs, using state of the art autosport and aerospace technology.

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Surface table by Terence Woodgate and John Barnard

“Maybe we just haven’t had the lightbulb moment yet…”

‘So what’s next?’ I ask. Factory capability, new innovative materials and production advances means furniture factories are more advanced than ever. But maybe the material is already here, in front of our noses, in disguise and being utilised for another purpose. Maybe we just haven’t had the lightbulb moment yet.

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Think about this. Arne Jacobsen’s original proposal for the Ant chair was laughed at and expected to fail with its ‘little spindly legs’. Marcel Breuer borrowed the idea of bent metal for his Wassily chair from hospital furniture and bicycles. Charles and Ray Eames initially steamed wood to create leg splints for injured soldiers returning from war, before transferring this know-how to create the iconic plywood chair. As we produce and consume more, creating more waste, many designers are turning to rubbish as our next abundantly available material.

Keep your eyes peeled. Sometimes >>>>new ideas<<<<  are right in front of your eyes.

 

 

Swiss re-Made

Swiss re-Made

I’ve found myself getting on my high horse recently about sustainability. Maybe it’s an age thing. Maybe it’s because I’ve been living in lush Swiss countryside and I’m now like totally in tune with nature, man. Whatever. I’m comfortable with it.

In this blog piece I’ll introduce you to a truly unique and sustainable Swiss furniture company that I’ve spotted on my travels…

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Industrial building becomes cool office

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Something we search for in buildings is character. Buildings that really get this balance right are often a considered blend of old and new, where gritty industrial features meet – and emphasise – slick new design. Or vice versa. A New York (or Manchester) loft apartment with modern stainless kitchen for example, or a Swiss Rustico (old Alpine stone house) renovation with ultra minimal interiors. London is awash with beautiful old buildings throughout Clerkenwell and Shoreditch that are rapidly being converted into coworking spaces, coffee shops or homes by a gentrification army of bearded hipsters.

But when we build shiny modern buildings how do we inject soul? How do you break up those clean efficient lines to provide a warm, casual ‘lived-in’ vibe and inject industrial cool? You could start by giving these guys a nudge.

Kyburzmade Portrait

Kyburz Made: A second life for waste wood

Fuelled by a creative passion, Tobias and Rainer Kyburz have a long history of… well, making stuff. Years ago in their parents garage, they could be found planing and sanding, sawing and finishing…and tuning their mopeds.

A few years later and Tobias and Rainer went their separate ways for a while (Tobias was a craft teacher whilst Rainer studied business), but they never lost sight of their dream to go into production together. During their time apart they honed their skill sets and kept this dream on the back burner, biding their time.

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Kyburz Made sideboard

Waste Not Want Knot

One day Tobias stumbled upon an old cupboard door, discarded in the street. He carefully revitalised it and turned it into a table top that he then sold to a friend. He spent time learning about the ageing process of different materials, paying close attention to the weathering, restoring and preservation of wood and metals. The idea gained traction.

5 years ago the Kyburz brothers acquired a workshop in Basel. With Tobias as the creative mind and Rainer leading Company strategy, Kyburz Made was born. Enthused by honest, ethical and sustainable local production, the brothers turned their enthusiasm and business savvy into furniture products. And cool ones too.

Kyburzmade Altholz Sofa 2

Seeing themselves as modern ‘hunter gatherers’, the pair track down discarded second hand materials, before treating and revitalising them. They call these materials hidden treasures and talk passionately about the beauty within. Kyburz painstakingly restore, build and create, to give these unloved cast-offs a second life as completely new furniture objects with a pre-loved industrial echo. I’m picturing the Kyburz’s scouring skips and building sites with child-like excitement. And I’m not far from the truth.

The recent demolition of Basel’s Hilton Hotel was described as ‘Christmas came early’. Skiploads of waste were snaffled up to await transformation into a sideboard, a sofa, a table, a shelving unit… or maybe something else.

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At present production is limited. Each piece is numbered and completely unique. The pair are propelled by a genuine love of what they do and are enjoying the ride. Questions like ‘Will it make money?’ or ‘Is it scaleable?’ are dismissed as the pair enjoy a return to their childhood. Kyzburg Made offer workshops and (after my own heart) preach about sustainable local production.

“Worthless junk. Unloved, dissed and dismissed…”

And all this using materials that are being thrown away. Worthless junk. Unloved, dissed and dismissed, before being found and loved into a new existence. Sometimes this takes several attempts. They design, build and consider, before dismantling to begin again. It has to be just right.

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Open re:Source

The Kyburz brothers are making a strong creative statement about our disposable society and demonstrate this through their complete transparency from sourcing, to production methods, design and aesthetics. This transparency is of great importance to them both. Every Kyburz Made piece of furniture proudly wears it’s history. Every piece tells a different story. Unique and sustainable furniture with an old soul. Ashes to ashes, rust to lust.

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