This Impossible Rocking Chair Wouldn’t Exist If Not For 3-D Printing

This alien-looking rocking chair shows us how weird design could get when we start designing in earnest for 3-D printers.

With its vaguely Caribbean aesthetic and ovum-like design, the Durotaxis Chair looks from a distance more like an alien egg than something you sit on. Look closer, though, and the Durotaxis becomes even more exotic, because for all of the weird mathematical fluidity of its form, it’s not made of one solid material. Instead, it’s an infinitely complicated lattice that scales in size, scale, density, color, and rigidity.


And if you’re not impressed yet? What if I told you the Durotaxis was 3-D printed? What if I mentioned the design wouldn’t be possible without a 3-D printer?

The chair, designed by Alvin Huang and his team at Synthesis Design + Architecture, was the result of a challenge from 3-D printer manufacturer Stratasys to create a piece that would be ridiculously cost-prohibitive to manufacture without using 3-D printing. Synthesis decided to do one better: They’d specifically design a chair that would be impossible without Stratasys’s latest printer, the Objet500 Connex3, which allows designers to apply gradients to practically every aspect of an object as it is being printed.

The ovoid shape of the chair allows it to have two equally viable positions. Upright, it’s closer to a traditional rocking chair; supine, it’s more of a lounge chair. According to Stratasys, it’s an extension of its ongoing research into the reciprocal relationship between form and performance.

“The chair provides an opportunity to explore a design and fabrication process that articulates both visually and materially what the chair is doing structurally and ergonomically,” the designers say. “The chair is thicker and more rigid where it needs it, and also thinner and softer where it has to be.”

Obviously, the Durotaxis would be possible without a 3-D printer: It’s feasible to imagine some infinitely patient craftsman carving the Durotaxis’s elaborate lattice structure out of a big block of foam rubber by hand. But other aspects of the design, like the way the material seamlessly shifts from hard to soft in areas, would be practically impossible without the 3-D printer.

And that’s what makes the Durotaxis more interesting than just being a weird chair that matches the decor of only some extraterrestrial space cult. A lot of times, 3-D printed designs are subpar recreations of objects originally designed with another medium in mind, but the Durotaxis reminds us that there’s a brave new world of 3-D design coming, with products that wouldn’t be viable in any other medium. And that’s plenty exciting.