• 09.18.13

A Chandelier That Can Practically Assemble Itself

A pair of designer-programmers 3-D printed this flashy fixture with baked-in assembly instructions.

A Chandelier That Can Practically Assemble Itself

3-D printing acolytes claim the technology can do just about anything. If they can be believed, the future–or “revolution” if you like–will be printed. Naturally, there’s a consumer angle here. For a few thousand bones, the power and promise of 3-D printing can be yours. A desktop 3-D printer, like the MakerBot or Formlabs Form 1, levels the playing field, giving the designer, researcher, and even just basement hobbyist equal opportunity to create whatever polymer chimera they can dream of.


But there are some limitations to these machines, or rather, to the standard 3-D printing techniques used to operate them. Hyperform, a new 3-D printing process (see more here and here), is designed to optimize your tabletop printer and allow you to print huge objects without any add-ons and upgrades. Like this chandelier, the first object to be printed using Hyperform and assembled out of a single strand of material.

Designed by Hyperform developers Marcelo Coelho and Skylar Tibbits, the chandelier was a first pass at applying the system to product design. The project, which was funded by a grant from Ars Electronica, assumes a sculptural form with a pyramid-like massing. It’s made of translucent plastic that burns a soft glow when light hits it. From afar, the chandelier appears almost crystalline, an effect that’s heightened by the sharp, triangulated geometry.

But look closer, and the object’s edges soften to reveal an rhythmic array of circular links. These are integrated onto the single plastic chain that winds its way from chandelier’s top and bottom (or whichever direction its terminus lies). The links are notched at different angles that have been algorithmically calibrated, enabling one segment of the chain to easily connect to another. The strand itself is encoded with the information needed to assemble the object itself. The parts bend at right angles in predetermined ways, so that the user doesn’t need an instruction booklet or fluency in English or Swedish to put the piece together.

The chandelier was the perfect outlet to “We wanted to look at the product spectrum to show how we could make a fairly large scale product that wouldn’t have been possible on smaller 3-D printers,” Tibbits tells Co.Design. “You’d need a super expensive machine to make a product like this.”

Only the printer Coelho and Tibbits used wasn’t. The designers partnered with Formlabs for the project and used a standard, off-the-shelf Form 1 to print the chandelier. “We took advantage of the high resolution of the Form 1,” Tibbits says, speaking of the final object’s clean, crystal appearance that you wouldn’t get from comparably priced machines.

The pair say that they will continue to refine the design and perhaps even extend the piece into a whole line of products. These will vary in complexity and shape, but will also be made using the exact same process. Coelho even imagines a set of Hyperform flat pack furniture that would assemble itself. Pull your would-be table out of it box, plug it in, and sit back and watch TV until you have a fully formed and structural table by your side. It’s the next best thing since, oh, well you know.

About the author

Sammy is a writer, designer, and ice cream maker based in New York. He once lived in China before being an editor at Architizer.