A Carbon-Fiber Bench As Big As A Warehouse Weighs Barely 10 Pounds

Mathias Bengtsson’s furniture looks and feels precariously lightweight–but it’s actually far stronger than the average chair, thanks to a NASA-developed technology.

“We live in a conservative culture,” says Danish designer Mathias Bengtsson, “in which too much design is produced without personality or ambition.”


Bengtsson uses high technology to create furniture with no lack of personality (or ambition): Slice, a series of globular chairs made from thousands of layers of laser cut plywood, or 2002’s Spun, a series of benches and chairs woven from super lightweight carbon fiber. Each piece weighs about two pounds (the lightest furniture ever produced!) thanks to a low-cost industrial fiber spinning technique used by aerospace engineers.

A new show at Industry Gallery in D.C. is exciting new interest in Spun, even though the series was designed a decade ago. Why? Because the curators of the show asked Bengtsson to weave 12 Spun benches into a single sinuous tube that spirals around the gallery in a figure eight. Since each bench weighs only a few pounds, the mega-bench doesn’t weigh more than 11 or 12 pounds. And while it may not look structurally sound, it is: visitors are welcome to relax where it touches down on the gallery floor.

“The pattern of the fibre is designed to produce maximum strength from minimum material–only 20% of the surface is carbon,” Bengtsson told Design Museum. Carbon fiber is notoriously expensive (think road bikes or climbing gear). That’s because it’s usually made by hand. The difference here is that Bengtsson is using an industrial fabrication technique in which a robot arm spins around two rotating discs, pulling a thread of carbon into a form dictated by a 3-D model. The final piece is then cured in a kiln, sealing its shape in place. It’s how NASA rapid prototypes things, and it’s far quicker and less expensive than handmaking carbon fiber objects.

Bengtsson’s most well-known chair, Slice, is also on view at Industry. The chair looks like a topographic map come to life, heavy and expressive–it’s tough to tell whether it’s melting or growing. Each Slice chair is made from thousands of laser cut layers of 3mm aluminum (or wood, depending on the piece), glued together and set in permanent form. Designed in 1999, Slice was one of the first instances of laser cutting–at the time, pretty novel–being used to expressive, sculptural effect. In fact, many point to Bengtsson’s early work as being responsible for popularizing laser cutting among furniture designers. The newest iterations of Slice are made from an even thinner material: paper. Each layer of material fades into the next, to alien effect.

Spun and Slice are both astronomically expensive to own (each sells for roughly $45,000), but you can try one out for free in D.C., where Bengtsson’s show is on view until June 29th.


About the author

Kelsey Campbell-Dollaghan is Co.Design's deputy editor.