Joris Laarman Lab Shows the Future of Digital Design

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An ad for the Joris Laarman Lab

Lloyd Alter

According to Joris Laarman,

We live in a fascinating time. An ordinary person has access to more information today than any world leader or Nobel Prize winner ever had in the past. We are children of a time of transition: one foot in the industrial era and the other in the digital era... Will robots be taking over all of our work within the next ten years? Or will developments in digital fabrication ensure that craftsmanship and the love of the way things are made will once again be central to society? In any case, we’re on the eve of great changes.

The Joris Laarman Lab uses the latest, most powerful technologies to make beautiful objects, many of which are on display at the Cooper Hewitt in New York City.

The physical world is unruly and beautiful for the unpredictabilities and limitations that make it necessary to experiment in order to gain control over something over time. But rather than something nostalgic, craftsmanship ought to be seen as something that is always evolving and that, with the help of high-tech tools, should be central to society.

Arm Chair

credit: Lloyd Alter/ Arm Chair

This armchair, made in 2007 when 3D printing was just beginning to catch people's attention, is a great example of how they think and work. The technology was relatively primitive, but they designed the chair and 3D-printed a very expensive mold with 91 parts. They then mixed resin with white Carrara marble powder and filled the mold. "None of us had any experience with such a thing and we had no idea of whether it would work." It did, and it is a thing of extraordinary beauty, now in the permanent collection at the High Museum in Atlanta. Watch how it's made:

Making of Arm Chair from anita star on Vimeo.

Bits & Parts

credit: Lloyd Alter

But most people don't have access to the kind of computers and printers that the Lab has, so they also designed chairs that anyone can make with any additive 3D printer. It is the first "crowd-fabricated" chair. If you have a small machine you can download the plans for this chair at, print out all the little pieces, and assemble it like a puzzle. I wonder what Charles Eames would have thought of this.

Bits & Parts from anita star on Vimeo.

credit: Lloyd Alter

Here are more designs in the Maker chair series, all made of 3D-printed parts that fit together like a puzzle, making digital design and production available to a wider audience using many different kinds of machines.

We believe that in a few years every big city will have professional production workshops as well as crowd-fabrication hubs for DIY makers. In the tradition of the early modernists, who often created manuals of their designs so that people could replicate their work at low cost, the blueprints of the 3D-printable versions of the Makerchairs were made available on the Internet under a creative commons license for people to download, modify and manufacture themselves.

Makerchair Voronoi from anita star on Vimeo.

credit: Lloyd Alter/ Digital Matter

Not all their work is 3D printed; these are like an 8-bit version of a rococo table, built up out of little metal cubes by robots. They were created for the High Museum to demonstrate "a direction of future design based on upcoming technology."

We don’t consider the resulting objects to be the end goal, but see them as frozen moments in an ongoing development. Projects like this teach us a lot about what robots can and cannot do. In a way this installation contributes to our aspiration to develop a very practical, multipurpose, low cost, robotic manufacturing unit that can operate anywhere in the world. We believe a hybrid form of digital fabrication and local crafts is the future of a more democratic design world, and with the help of new technologies we hope that in a few years everyone will be able to afford good design that is locally fabricated.

Digital Matter Installation from anita star on Vimeo.

Gradient Screen

credit: Lloyd Alter/ Gradient Screen

Here, the Lab is working with heavy metal. "For every new form a language of specific strategy is developed, resulting in a large library of strategies that will become self-learning in the near future." And, in fact, they are using this technology to fabricate a bridge that will be installed over a canal in Amsterdam.

Gradient Screen Making Of (2017) from anita star on Vimeo.

credit: Lloyd Alter

So why is this on TreeHugger? About a decade ago we started looking at the implications of what we called downloadable design, envisioning a time when "we will download design on demand. It is like the music for our iPod -- dematerialized bits and bytes put together again where we need it, without the waste of a physical intermediary." We watched the development of the home 3D printers, and shared in the hype. In the end, it was mostly hype; design is hard. But the Joris Laarman Lab shows that in the hands of true artists, these technologies are changing design, changing the way things are made, and creating wonderful opportunities. Last word to Joris Laarman:

When people see a robot they see a solution to a problem or even the problem itself. I see an instrument to create smart beauty.