Thursday, December 4, 2014

Chair Design 3B is Available

The latest iteration of folded plywood chairs (chair 3B) came off the shopbot today.  As an architect I've been interested in the indirect ways paper can create form for a long time. A good drawing can be both inspirational and instructive.  Schematic design drawings hopefully inspire.  Construction documents try to be instructive or at least descriptive.  Together these two kinds of drawings aid and abet the execution of many effective projects that would suffer in their absence.  

In the professional world of architecture it takes a lot of hard work to make a rigorous drawing.  A refrigerator that is the wrong width can make the project impractical or costly.  A beam can be drawn too shallow for the distance it has to span.  "Paper architects" are the unapplied ones who make these mistakes. In this sense our connection to paper is often something we try to downplay. Lebbius Woods, a famously theoretical architect, once said rather shockingly: "Architects don't make buildings, they make drawings." ...the truth hurts. There is something "indirect" about the discipline. Some direct ways of using paper are also intriguing.

When I was a kid paper had an entirely different reputation. Making interesting things out of paper was perhaps the most resourceful "MacGyver" thing one could do. Anyone who could take a banal piece of paper (especially the kind that you used for school work) and turn it into something that could fly around the room had gift. Kids who knew how to do that? They were alchemists!

In this way I think making paper airplanes and architecture are the same thing. They both create a substantial leap in meaning with a few carefully considered "creases";  The material is still evident but the new object is no longer called by its material name.  Now it is a "plane" or a "building."

Origami personifies this to me and I wanted to make a series of chairs that recalled this simple alchemy from my childhood. There are many parallels between today's panel technologies (SIP panels, Plywood, Fiber Cement etc.) and these early inquiries into paper. In the recent past I have wanted to incorporate this early origami thinking into my building designs. SIP panel technology, where entire walls are made at a factory, was one way to approach this.  The idea of complicated building geometry being handled in this more precise manufacturing environment holds some real promise.

But there are many other constraints that often overwhelmed these early efforts and ultimately it was more important that the client simply have a functional and beautiful building.  They didn't need a thought experiment.

Nevertheless I do think it is important to dream and often the pressures of executing an affordable project for someone else can make this dreaming seem frivolous; not unlike a paper airplane in the classroom.

In short, I have wanted to reconcile this vitally whimsical world of art and this serious world of construction. I find they are so often at odds. These chair designs try to address the very literal parallels I see between paper and panel technologies with a few inquiries into chairs. Understanding the way this CNC machine works and how the hinges and plywood behave has been a central preoccupation of this endeavor. Hopefully there is still a whiff of origami whimsy about them. I also hope there will be more of this work-in-progress to come. There is no "final design." This chair is made from Latvian marine grade plywood and steel hinges. The finish will likely be a tung oil. With two chair coming out of one sheet of plywood they should be relatively simple and affordable to produce. Please feel free to contact me if you're interested in ordering some. Modifications are certainly possible and even encouraged.

Michael Cobb

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