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Surface Tensions: 5 Everyday Materials Used in Unexpected Ways

Five designers exploring how materials can be stretched, pulled, crumpled, and frozen.

The best designers aren’t the best because they can draw a better swoop or sketch a crazier chair–what makes them great is how well they handle the spirit and possibilities of a material.

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For example: Much of what we think of as classic 1950s design boils down to techniques, new at the time, for bending and steaming wood. The Eames’s were geniuses at that.

Our decade is probably going to be all about rapid prototyping–and it’s signature look of dizzying complexity. But obviously, designers still haven’t exhausted the possibilities of materials that have been around forever–and they never will. Here are five examples that prove it:

Bertjan Pot created these lamp shades by vacuum sealing a resin-soaked textiles around a cluster of balloons. Afterward, the balloons were popped, leaving a familiar but funky shell:

Bertjan Pot
Bertjan Pot

Thien Nguyen’s Flexy Light is nothing more than cardboard. But because of the clever way that the cardboard has been pleated, the lamp shade, which comes in a compact tube, can be formed and reformed into almost any shape you’d like:

Flexy Light

These glasses and tables by Pascal Smelik seem almost familiar, and that’s because if you’ve ever played with a lit candle, you’ve seen how the basic fabrication works: They were created by pouring hot wax into cold water. Afterwards, these shapes were cast in glass and aluminum, to make tableware and a table:

Pascal Smelik
Pascal Smelik

This sofa by Therese Glimskär is meant to suggest a new pathway for upholstery. The sofa is lightweight and light on materials–it consists only of strong, stretchy fabric and a metal frame. Perhaps not a pratical chair, but an interesting one nonetheless:

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Therese Glimskär
Therese Glimskär

It’s not immediately apparent, but Gilad Davidi’s Meiosis backpack also depends crucially on elasticity. The protective carapice is made of dozens of polygons of rugged foam. It holds its shape because it’s attached to a base of elastic fabric, which bends the foam pieces into the backpack’s domed shape (Gilad actually also designed these brilliant cups, which we’ve covered before):

meiosis backpack

[Via Designboom, Dezeen, The Contemporist–check out the links above for more pics and information]

About the author

Cliff is director of product innovation at Fast Company, founding editor of Co.Design, and former design editor at both Fast Company and Wired.

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