The Belgian rapid-prototyping company Materialise, founded in 1990 in the quaint university town of Leuven, could have simply leased its gigantic machines to other industrial concerns, filled its coffers, and happily chugged along in that way for at least a decade or two. But recognizing prototyping as a watershed technology with major implications for design, it spun off a creative division called MGX in 2003, which has since called upon stars like Arik Levy and Patrick Jouin to go wild dreaming up intricate furnishings that would otherwise be impossible to fabricate. Jouin's One_Shot foldable stool, for instance, is a symphony of moving parts that is produced in a single piece using selective laser-sintering: A laser "prints" out the seat by drawing it, layer by layer, into a powder that hardens on contact.
For its 2007 line, MGX managing art director Naomi Kaempfer asked four designers to create an object around the theme of "Private" that challenges the company's production capabilities. Here, I.D. offers a sneak preview of the remarkable collection.
Detail.MGXDan Yeffet, JellyLab Paris, France
Israeli-born designer Dan Yeffet, whose plant-like Hidden vase and faceted Polyvase for Materialise MGX were unveiled at this year's Milan fair, began his idea for a lampshade with the unmistakable pattern of a fingerprint, something that, when shared, is closely associated with the loss of privacy—in this case the designer's own. He stretched his print around a sphere, its unique swirls becoming channels through which light would shine. Yeffet says he prefers to call rapid prototyping "rapid manufacturing," a distinction that helps explain his fascination with MGX's technology. "This morphology can't be recreated by any other technique if we want to manipulate it into a product, rather than an art object," he says.
Damned LampshadeLuc Merx, Gagat International Aachen, Germany
Dutch architect Luc Merx's lampshade is an algorithmic mass of writhing nudes that recalls the classical motif of the fall of the damned. He imagines the lamp hanging above a dining table, the shock of the frozen, terrified bodies disturbing diners with age-old questions of guilt and morality, issues usually kept behind closed doors. By producing the piece with Materialise's technology, Merx also has another historical reference in mind: "The lamp is a masterpiece of virtuosity, similar to that of 18th-century ivory furniture," he says. "But the difference is that this is not the result of our virtuosity, but that of a computer."
Especially For YouAmanda Levete, Future Systems London, United Kingdom
That architect Amanda Levete's chromed bowl resembles a piece of mangled scrap metal—or perhaps a necklace one would find in the MoMA store—is part of its intrigue: The private, handwritten message "this is designed especially by me for you with love" has been expanded into a 3-D form that hides its meaning from everyone but its owner. Levete offered the design to Materialise MGX because the complex twists of each letter and the gaps they create would otherwise be murderous to realize, even by hand. "Especially For You is completely freeform, without any geometric logic," Levete says. She ups the thematic ante by proposing the bowl be put to very private use—as a bedside condom holder.
DownloadRoss Lovegrove London, United Kingdom
Ross Lovegrove describes his sinuous Download pen as a "state-of-the-art" digitized form molded from the negative space of his own hand, although the veiny shell looks more like what you'd find if you dissected that body part.
Lovegrove, like Yeffet, defines privacy in terms of how much of his personal anatomy he's willing to put on offer. The pen is also a vehicle to promote one of his pet theories, which he calls "Netification." "I created the term to describe the lightening of structures, made possible only by rapid-prototyping," he explains. "MGX is at the forefront of pushing this type of manufacturing and making it accessible to the emerging generation of design industrialists."