Can furniture be made that takes on its final shape by itself after unpacking? Furniture was traditionally mostly made by a carpenter or in a factory and then transported in its finished three-dimensional form to the place where it was to be used. The DIY movement and take-away furniture providers such as Ikea have often shifted design and manufacturing to a so-called “flat pack concept”, where furniture parts are placed in a flat package to be transported efficiently. Users then usually have to assemble the furniture themselves, which requires assembly instructions, tools and – more or less – a lot of time. At the same time, the design of flat-pack furniture is limited by such transport and manufacturing conditions.
Inspired by the Greek term “hyle”, which is used both for matter and for the ancient building material wood, the spin-off hylo tech wants to apply a new process as a design and technology company under the name HygroShape. Behind this is an innovative flat-pack concept in which the shaping and construction of the piece of furniture is embedded in the material itself, enabling simple, automatic self-forming. Each piece is produced in a flat state with a total thickness of less than three centimetres. Once transported, it can self-form up to a height of 50 centimetres, the standard seat height of a chair, which means an increase in volume of up to 30 times.
HygroShape is based on the targeted use of hygroscopic shrinkage, as occurs naturally in freshly harvested wood. Like the cone scales of conifers, it uses a principle of passive shaping through drying, which makes the shaping process reliable, robust and independent of supplied energy. A comprehensive digital material model based on the physical-mechanical properties of the wood now makes it possible to calculate the shrinkage behaviour. In combination with computer-aided design methods, a specific material syntax is developed from this. This determines the internal composition and moisture content of the multi-layered timber components and thus physically programmes a planned shaping sequence into the material. The approach aims to create a new way of manufacturing where the design of each part is derived from the behaviour of the material from which it is made.
The first HygroShape collection consists of a series of prototypes. Designed at the University of Stuttgart, each individual piece has a specific syntax of material programming, each focusing on a particular aspect of computer-aided manufacturing: H1 is a lounge chair designed for a dynamic posture and compliance in the backrest, H2 a chaise longue designed for a relaxed posture. Both pieces are made of high-quality, FSC-certified European maple wood.
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