Designer Kaii Tu has made over a dozen different types of vessels out of the singular Valence unit, and there are at least twice that amount possible from the mold.

"Valence is a good example of my investigations into contextual narratives," Tu explains. Though the motley collection of vessels is beautiful in itself, shifting the "heirloom" concept to the forever functional mold allows the glasses to be used and enjoyed freely as well.

Valence is made out of cherry wood, a traditional material for glassblowing molds, and treated with the same respect as the vessels.

"When I look at teacups that have lasted a century, they’re often behind display cabinet doors to be looked at from a distance.  I think this is a pity.  Perhaps it’s because they’re impossible to replace, so people are afraid to touch them, or perhaps people’s habits have changed and those designs are no longer useful in our lives today. Instead, I wanted to create something that could live and continue to be relevant over time," Tu explains.

Valence itself is quite sculptural as a complete unit.

It’s easy to reconfigure Valence to create a completely new vessel.

The "alphabet" of forms created from the Valence system can evolve with the user’s particular needs over time.

Co.Design

This Modular Glassblowing Mold Was Designed To Be An Heirloom

Kaii Tu’s Valence creates a multitude of forms that can be configured to make even more objects.

The practicality of an heirloom is most often inversely proportional to its age--while the added years might increase its sentimentality or worth, it’s likely the older stuff will get the do-not-touch treatment, effectively eliminating its functional purpose. San Francisco-based designer Kaii Tu subverted the system with Valence, a modular glassblowing mold recently on display at the SF Local Design Market at Zinc Details. “I wanted to create something that could live and continue to be relevant over time,” Tu tells Co.Design. “This shifts the center of gravity from the vessels themselves to the periphery--the mode of production.”

Glassblowing has been around for more than three millennia, and the molds used generally function on a one-to-one scale, where each produces a singular item. Tu took a different approach. “I analyzed a cross section of functional vessels relevant to living habits today--decanter, beverage glasses tall and short--then distilled an alphabet of forms that could be configured and reconfigured to create an even greater variety of objects: soy sauce pourer, egg cup, etc.,” he says. His sketches and 3-D models were translated into CAD and CAM blueprints. “These in turn controlled a computerized router that milled the cherry wood, a traditional material for glassblowing molds,” he says. “I like the meeting of old and new, blending traditional materials and techniques with advanced fabrication.”

Tu has made over a dozen different kinds of glass vessels with Valence, with at least a dozen more potential shapes possible. “It’s a tool to generate further pieces that adapt to changing tastes and customs--a renewing heirloom,” he says.

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