Digital Fabrication for All

Victor Hugo wrote in his novel The Hunchback of Notre Dame, “This [the printed word] will kill that [the built church].” By that he meant that while prior to the advent of the printing press people relied on the architecture and teachings of the church to educate them and guide them, they now had access to the knowledge on their own and no longer had need of the story told by the carvings and stained glass.

People, especially in the United States, have come to believe that public access to knowledge is one of the fundamental rights of human kind and that technology is beneficial for the power it has to connect us to people and resources we wouldn’t otherwise know about. No doubt there are many important and wonderful things that have come from technology, advancements in architecture and design among them, but when does accessibility replace expertise?

I read an article in ArchDaily that introduced a new technology called SketchChair being developed by Diatom Studio. This open-source software program will allow anyone interested to design furniture which can then be fabricated and shipped to the owner for in-home assembly. Author Karissa Rosenfield writes, “Digital fabrication is changing the world of design and becoming available to the masses.” While this may seem like a wonderful idea at first glance, the consequences of continued mass distribution of design and fabrication technologies could put the profession of architecture at risk. Whether or not people have the skills to do their own design work, programs like this will help them think that they do. Just because they are given the information does not mean they will use it to the best of its ability.

Diagram of SketchChair design and fabrication process.

I do not say this to be snobbish or suggest that design professionals should keep technologies like this to themselves, only to point out that there is a reason that people specialize in certain skills. If people start designing their own furniture with this easy-to-use software, they may being to assume that design itself is easy and consequently undervalue the work of designers. The widespread availability of design and fabrication technologies means that we have to work harder to stay relevant and help people understand the nuances of the design thinking process.

 

Rosenfield , Karissa . “Digital Fabrication / SketchChair” 27 Oct 2011. ArchDaily. Accessed 16 Nov 2012. <http://www.archdaily.com/177752&gt;

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2 comments

  1. kieck033

    Though this type of idea has already made its way into other markets, like personalizing shoes for example, I think the SketchChair technology is a great and convenient idea for the design world. Everybody has their own ideas of the ideal object for themselves. Maybe this is just what has to happen in order to meet people’s needs. Exact representations of one’s thoughts just do not exist for purchase. For example, athletics were my life through high school. Every year I would look for the sharpest, coolest looking basketball shoe I could find, keeping in mind this was prior to the customizable option available to us now. However, to my utter disappointment, my perfect, ideal shoe just simply did not exist.

    This very much makes its appearance to others in different areas of desires. Now that the SketchChair idea could very much be a reality, you no longer have to force that unwanted chair in the corner just to fill the space and can replace it with a more beautiful chair that you designed to fit your home. Another question this may raise is that of furnishing stores and how this will impact business, but I think this is just in good nature of competition. SketchChair is a wonderful technology that I look forward to seeing out on the market and hopefully can test out some day.

    With regards to the argument about how the SketchChair technology has a negative impact on architecture as a profession, I am going to have to slightly disagree. I understand and concur with the statement about how people will think they can design. However, the statement “[people] may assume that design itself is easy and consequently undervalue the work of designers” to me is not convincing. In the end, people will be designing a chair. The range of complexity of designing a chair to a Frank Gehry building, or any other building design, is a gigantic leap. Most people that walk into buildings do not even notice the architecturally significant attributes the building presents (minus those educated in design perhaps). And if they did take time to think about out how buildings are designed and constructed I bet they would be overwhelmed at the thought and would eventually give the credit to designers as deserved. My point is this world will still need architects to design. Being able to design one’s own chair will not affect their perspective towards designers. Society will still rely on designers to provide them with the eloquent and beautiful buildings they inhabit each and every day.

  2. I don’t think that access to programs such as SketchChair is in anyway a threat to architects or even furniture designers, just because people have access to these programs doesn’t mean they will use them and even if they do that doesn’t mean that they will automatically think that they are experts or that they should design all of their furniture from then on. If that were the case architects would have gone out of business just as soon as Google Sketchup came out with a free application, or all stuffed animal companies would’ve gone bankrupt as soon as the first build-a-bear opened. What people are really getting out of this SketchChair program is a fun icebreaker for their living room that they can brag about and say “see that chair? I designed that.” If anything it’s more of a craft or novelty item in which people want to try once rather than create a career out of. Besides, if people can design furniture that’s just right for them more power to them, I don’t think that just because they can do it well (assuming they actually make a piece that they like) they will look down on people doing it for a living. Even if they do increase competition for furniture design that just means that companies will have to work harder to come up with even better idea for new products, which I don’t see as a bad thing.

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