2015 VMODERN Furniture Design Competition
Ex-Embryon obscures the binary between frame and skin, providing a clear vision for the future of furniture design.
Two methods of double-curved conditions can be largely classified as panalized frames (Guggenheim, Bilbao), or self-supporting monoliths (surfboard). The first system is based on a tedious fractalization of load transference (panel to purlin to rafter to column) and each form serves as a standalone prototype. The second system is closely linked with composite materials (such as fiberglass or reinforced plastics) and controlled aspects of mass production. Though digital design has allowed architects to shape these surfaces with precision and specificity, there has yet to be an efficiently unified structural system (due to an obvious disconnect in scale). At the heart of this observation lies a hybridized conclusion: a thickened shell with a slimmer skeleton.01
The modern era of industrial design utilized advancements from the aeronautic industry to re-think the applications of laminated veneers. Even curvaceous composites such as the Womb Chair (Eero Saarinen) or the DAW Chair (Charles Eames) can be simply defined as draped two-dimensional surfaces. Common throughout their research in folding and bending was the principle that structure generates stiffness through corrugation.
Selecting Saarinen’s Womb Chair as an aesthetic starting point, Danish designer Arne Jacobsen replaced the structural purity of the folded surface with a solid, close-formed object, coined “The Egg.” Though Jacobsen used near-contemporary methods of construction in order to achieve his elegant shape (high density foam, fiberglass shell), his design overlooks one pivotal joint connection: the softened colorful monolith skewered by the steel cruciform.
Continuing where Jacobsen left off, Ex-Embryon addresses the otherwise subdued relationship between frame and skin, making the polarized tectonic of steel and fiberglass the primary focal point of the piece. In order to resolve this condition of materiality, the offset shell is visually detached from its steel skeleton. 04 Structurally, the punctured holes in the fiberglass (normally creating weakened zones in the continuous form) are strengthened by extruding perpendicular nodes along the steel appendages (creating stiffness through folding). 05 Aesthetically, the extruded nodes create a second “false joint” where both systems recognize the existence of the other, but disguise the real connection (bolted hardware, rubber gasket) 08 within the form itself. From the standpoint of cost and constructability, fabricating a hollow three-dimensional volume 07 creates a final product that is lightweight, and structurally self supporting.
The Value of Symbol / “The Dymaxion Car vs. The Prius”
Buckminster Fuller’s “Dymaxion Car” proved to be the most fuel-efficient vehicle of its time, but failed to lower carbon emissions because it looked like a moving hot dog; his ambition was to design a car with low wind-resistance. Decades later, Toyota launched their own Dymaxion, fuel efficient vehicle, “The Prius.” However, unlike Fuller, The Prius was a market success because their ambition was to design a symbol (the car of the future).
The minimalist denounces the value of symbol, piously claiming it to be a superfluous extension of ornament. The maximalist rejects a strict adherence to function, and deploys the technology at hand to sculpt a narrative that would otherwise not exist in this world. What was once in a state of amorphous flux is now frozen is place, physically arrested by a foreign tectonic 09 that confidently reveals itself to the unexpected observer. Ex-Embryo is more than a performative object (a chair); it is a theatrical centerpiece, a sculptural artifact in its own right, designed to reflect the architecture of today and even tomorrow.