Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Coral-inspired 3D printed lamps

I see a future for product design that is in many ways quite different from how the trade is practiced at the moment. It's a future where we learn to handle materials in an increasingly intelligent way, and work hand in hand with computers. Which we will probably not call computers any longer. I am recognizing this shift where materials more and more become part of the dynamic function of the device they constitute. In fact, I think that with new, responsive, and programmable materials, structure will become function again. So that we become linked to our technologies in a fully embodied way. Design then, gets to be more of an evolution, a growth, not unlike a carbon-based organism is grown these days. Design becomes emergent rather than plan-based.

This is how it is in what we call nature. Everything is grown as one structure, and electric communication is simply an intrinsic part of this structure, rather than a separate system within an enclosure. So in nature at least we can find inspiration for this new type of design. And we can start translating what we find slowly into our products, to make for a gradual shift to a materially intelligent future.

The design studio 'Nervous System' does exactly that. They have taken a hypothetical mechanism found in nature, and developed products, partially using that mechanism. It's called 'reaction-diffusion', and is supposed to be responsible for the complex patterning and coloring of animals like zebras and tropical fish. The lamps that the designers subsequently created through 3D printing techniques came to look somewhat like corals. Whether it looks beautiful is for everybody to decide for him- or herself, but surely the way the materials are handled here is quite extraordinary. That is beautiful to me in itself.

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