Additive manufacturing has been touted as a technology that will revolutionize the way we mass-produce and distribute things. Like a growing number of people, designer and artist Gavin Munro of England believe that the way the current process of how trees are grown, harvested, milled, cut, assembled and finished is inefficient and too resource-intensive. But rather than turning to cutting-edge tech to solve this problem, Munro decided to use water, air and soil in a solution that he characterizes as a kind of "organic 3D printing" where objects like chairs, tables and lamps are grown by hand and molded into the desired forms, rather than made by machine.
Munro's project, Full Grown, began when he realized that it would be quicker and more efficient to grow, train and prune trees into the shapes and objects that we need, instead of waiting forty to sixty years for a tree to grow to the right size, then using huge machines and trucks to harvest, transport and make furniture. So eight years ago, Munro planted a viable grove of several hundred trees that he will be finally harvesting later this year as his first batch of lamps and chairs (mainly willow but also sycamore, ash, hazel and crab apple.) Watch him tell the whole story in this TED talk:
Eight years sounds like a long time to make a chair, but Munro insists that this method is the "faster, cheaper and more efficient" than the conventional method of mass production. Munro estimates that his grove of furniture has offset 5,000 kilograms of carbon since its initial planting, and only uses the equivalent energy consumed by ten 60-watt lightbulbs burning for eight hours per day, for a year. Full Grown furniture is estimated to have only one-quarter of the carbon footprint of conventionally mass-made furnishings.
It's an intriguing idea that rethinks the whole process of production, but Munro notes that he's not the first to do it; most notably we've seen artisanal companies like Pooktre and Grown Furniture using the same concept, but Munro's operation seems truly focused on creating a mass-farmed product, which he describes as "mass production meets delayed gratification." In addition, he plans to offer up his techniques on an open-source basis, so that anyone with some basic hand tools, a bit of land and the knowledge will be able to grow their own furniture. In the future, Munro hopes to branch out (pun!) and produce larger pieces and even bikes, cars and small greenhouse structures -- an effort that may someday help us grow whole "vegetal cities." More over at Full Grown.