Imagine any strange or amazing object, sketch it up in two dimensions, feed it into a computer program and watch the flat-pack pieces print out in real life. This may be the most revolutionary use of three-dimensional laser cutters yet conceived – a way to turn consumers into producers, turning an average amateur do-it-yourself furniture builder into the new Frank Gehry of furnishings.
The advantage and disadvantage of laser-cutting machines is their naturally flat products: in most cases, they inevitably produce a 2D result. Fortunately, flat-pack cardboard, plywood and sheet metal designers have been figuring out ways for decades to make sturdy furniture objects that save on space and materials and start with fully flat parts.
The idea here is to take the best of both worlds – personal creative 3D exploration and professional flat-component structural knowledge – and merge them in an easy-to-use program that provides opportunities for hands-on experimentation with little waste and a low barrier to entry. A CNC router or laser cutter turns any DIY whim into a near-instant reality, and you can start with a small scale-model print-out to further save time and money.
In theory, the software should also keep you from making serious structural errors – a short-cut strategy to teach you what most furniture makers take decades to learn and integrate into their design/build intuition. The user can stress-test their designs with simulated physics before printing them out, putting together and sitting on them and risking injury via real-world failure.
And, naturally, all of this leads to not just infinite personalization in terms of style, but also in terms of form and comfort – someone with an unusual condition or simply of irregular proportions compared to most people could create a chair with a slightly longer back, or legs, or an entirely other shape that conforms to their particular body type. Still not ready for widespread use, the SketchChair is a collaboration between Greg Saul and JST ERATO Design UI Project in Tokyo – hopefully someday soon you will be able to hook it up to your Mac, PC or even a smart phone to print your own, a friend’s or a professional’s open-source design from anywhere.