Review by Sonia Sarangi
Even though I consider myself pretty well informed about trends in Architecture, I confess that 3-D printing & Digital fabrication is one facet of design that I have paid little attention to or explored. Honestly, I had thought this future wasn’t here yet.
Well, it is. And wow!
Like Learning from Surfer’s Paradise – another exhibition held at the RMIT Design Hub earlier in the year – the exhibition has its origins overseas. The curators at the Design Hub, Kate Rhodes & Fleur Watson, however have taken the approach to enrich the original exhibition content from the Design Museum in London with diverse examples of local experimentation in the field of 3-D printing. On a personal level, this approach struck a great chord with me. It was great way for me to connect to this exotic discipline; it immediately dissolved the barriers that we often construct internally – that it is something that is mostly being explored overseas and irrelevant to our shores. Via delightful video vignettes, these local experiments (some of which will never make it to a traditional consumer) span diverse spheres such as textile design, ceramics, orthopedic surgical implants, hearing-aids, jewellery, building facades and the exhibition design itself.
Studio Roland Snook’s exhibition design is chameleon-like in its realization; part-surface, part-furniture, part-structure, part-ornament. For me, its true brilliance lies in fact that the end-result is a mere few millimeters thick. If ever there existed a design that discards every extraneous slice of building material, this is it.
But it is not simply the local content that enriches the experience for the visitor. Whirring away at the end of the main hall are the machines themselves. The focus isn’t on the technology or the end-result itself but also the process of Design. This appears to be an intentional tactic and is a fantastic way to educate the general public about the extensive behind-the-scenes aspect of the Design industry.
“Design Hub is dedicated to showcasing the ‘arc’ of design research – that is, the often messy, process side of design practice and all its phases including conception, prototyping, evaluation, outcome and archive.”
– Kate Rhodes & Fleur Watson, Curators – RMIT Design Hub
Moving on from the local context, the overseas contributions are presented (in my view) in a more-or-less chronological manner. Examples begin with the more commonly understood Subtractive manufacturing such as CNC-routing and Laser cutting. This is followed by some of the first ‘high-street’ uses that 3-D printing (an Additive manufacturing process) was put to – such as homewares, eye-wear and couture fashion by high-profile designers like Ron Arad.
The final portion of the exhibition displays a gamut of recent experimental products that are being developed by (international) manufacturers. Some of these are in production, some have fallen by the wayside and others will hopefully grace online stores soon. There are a few opportunities that this technology enables. Substantial customization and input from the buyer is now possible before the manufacturing via 3-D printing commences. This process also avoids the associated downsides of mass-production. Only when an order is placed, will the goods be produced. There is no need for large shipments and wasteful consumption of our precious natural resources when there is no confirmed buyer. These manufacturers are also embracing closed-loop methods whereby the products can be easily dis-assembled, recycled or easily composted at the end of their use.
An idea that I found particularly delightful was the notion of ‘Emotionally durable design’ – which suggests that people are more inclined to hold on to goods that they have formed an emotional attachment to. This could happen by their shared personal history with an object – such as through customization or the fact that they were directly able change the original template and upload the design to a 3-D printer at the manufacturer’s website. As a society we tend to consume way more than what we can actually house in our homes. The notion that we can shift towards a way of consuming that is more selective and less wasteful is perhaps utopian – but one worth aiming for.
Importantly this exhibition is not reduced to an advertisement or cheer squad for robotic manufacturing techniques. As explained in the exhibition booklet:
“The aim of The Future is Here is not necessarily to take the position that previous systems of production – craft vs mass-production; local production vs centralized; and anything in between – were inherently good or bad. All methods of production are capable of delivering both good and bad products. The aim of the exhibition is to examine whether new technologies are giving us the capacity to develop new ways of making.”
– Alex Newson, Senior Curator – Design Museum
I suspect there may be a minority who may walk away from the exhibition thinking ‘This is all well and good but I personally value the craft of making and its associated imperfections’. There seem to be hints that even this is possible through 3-D or Digital methods. A good example is the typeface developed for the exhibition itself. It is programmed to appear similar to a hand-written sign with imperfections and variations of the same letter programmed to appear randomly. How ironic that we have gone from handwriting to machine fonts to machine-generated-but-like-hand-writing typefaces!
To others who are of a more Luddite tendency who might emerge thinking “Ah! But the element of human intervention disappears through these methods”. The exhibition does a fantastic job of putting the creators and thinkers at the heart of each exploration. These explorations are impossible without the minds behind them and the process continues to rely on human innovation at ever turn. The idea of human agency is put front-and-centre by the first exhibit ‘Bloom’ (by Alisa Andrasek & Jose Sanchez) that one encounters. Made up of repetitive, fluorescent pink elements but designed to be connected in myriad ways, the idea of playful exploration is at the heart of the display.
So make sure you go and explore this exhibition, it is well worth your time
The Future Is Here is on until the 11 October 2014 at the RMIT Design Hub
Sonia Sarangi is co-founder of Atelier Red + Black, an emerging architecture practice in Fitzroy, Victoria. She has previously worked in both small practice (Melbourne) and a large international firm (Singapore). She has a Masters in Architecture from the University of Melbourne. Sonia can be found on Instagram @thesarangi