Saturday, June 26, 2010
DESIGN AND AUTOMATION
As a designer and craftsperson who has designed and made many chairs, seeing this piece inspires all kinds of reflection on design, craft and manufacturing, too much to put down here, but I would like to say a few things and hopefully, others will have something to add.
This chair the DC09, designed by Inoda + Sveje and made by Japanese manufacturer Miyazaki Isu is a great example of how far fine, wood furniture making has come with the help of automation. When I first saw this chair, I assumed it was the work of a highly skilled craftsperson with a very refined design sense. In reality it is the work of a team of industrial designers and technicians. Indeed, for a craftsperson, working with conventional hand and power tools to produce a piece like this would be a major challenge-as a one off. To re-produce the piece in a quantity, with consistency would be masterful.
In terms of design, it is a kind of highbred between the work of studio furniture maker Sam Maloof and industrial designer Hans Wegner.
Apparently, the retail price for this chair is 1300 to 2500 Euros or 1662 to 3196 Canadian dollars, depending on the wood choice.
Most so called “studio furniture makers” in the Vancouver area do not make chairs. Chairs have always been considered more challenging than tables or cabinets, and for that reason, designing and making (a good) chair is daunting to some and irresistible to others. That is one of the reasons that chairs are considered iconic.
Many architects have designed chairs as a way of demonstrating their talent and ability with the three dimensional structural form-on a small scale.
One of the things that distinguish this chair from other similarly refined, wood, industrial designs is the candid way in which the designers depict the production process. We see no photos of mythical craftsmen with hand planes and chisels, or fine toothed Japanese pull saws. All we see are the chair parts being carved by a five axis cnc router.
In fact, I have asked myself recently, when I see the stereotypical depiction of the traditional woodworker pushing a hand plane with fine shavings falling to the floor; do people today recognize these tools and processes anymore? Sure, many still do, but in this digital age, with the loss of what used to be called “vocational training” or shop class in schools and people growing up in high density urban situations more people may be able to understand the image of automation than the image of hand woodwork.
How does automation in woodworking affect the studio furniture maker? Is it a threat or an opportunity? Is it a force against which they cannot compete? When you form a team made up of the best designers and technicians using the best software and automated machinery with the advantages of mass production, combine that with the cheapest labour markets, the most effective marketing and distribution, it doesn’t look promising.
However, things are much more complex……………..to be continued.