Despite the futuristic hype surrounding 3D printing, many digitally fabricated products don't look particularly comfortable to wear or sensible to use. But it doesn't stop designers from making those claims, and experimenting further, as in the case of Dutch designer Lilian van Daal, who believes that additive manufacturing will one day replace the resource-intensive process behind traditional, upholstered furniture with one that is streamlined and resource-efficient.
Today's upholstered furniture is a pain to recycle, being an amalgamation of glues, springs, chemicals, foams and fabrics. 3D printing would help to solve this issue, says the graduate of The Hague's Royal Academy of Art over at Dezeen:
Soft seating usually consists of several different materials [and] it's all glued together, which is a problem for the recyclability of a product.
You need five or six different factories [to produce conventional upholstered furniture]. But with 3D printing, you can produce very locally and you don't have material waste in the production process; you only use the material you need.
Van Daal's 3D printed Biomimicry chair looks to the way nature is able to create different kinds of structural materials at the cellular level. Thus the chair features different cell-like structures to either create softness or stiffness. A nylon material was used to create the chair, which we're not too crazy about, but it's a step toward whittling down the list of materials that we now need to create soft chairs. It's about emulating nature's processes in digital fabrication to produce more sustainable furnishings, says van Daal:
3D printing is also a way to 'grow' material, so I've used this solution to create a new way of soft seating with several different functions in one material.
It's an interesting experiment, but different, more earth-friendly materials would be needed to complete the picture. Van Daal hopes to explore further in the future with biological materials (something we've seen before in this chair, 3D printed with fungi). 3D printed soft furnishings won't be widely available just yet, but it's exciting to see designers inspired by nature to "grow" furniture that one day may actually be comfy to sit on, and potentially made from natural materials to boot. More over at Dezeen and Lilian van Daal.