“Design history is driven by new technologies and material innovation. For us designers, the advent of these technologies has always been the starting point of new objects and typologies in design,” says Werner Aisslinger, internationally renowned German industrial designer.
Aisslinger – who set up Aisslinger Studio in Berlin in 1993 – has built a reputation for his experimental and artistic approach to industrial design and architecture. By keeping a close eye on material innovations, he has introduced many new materials and techniques into his work.
For instance, his Juli chair for the manufacturer Cappellini was the first item of furniture to use polyurethane integral foam. For the same manufacturer, he also designed a series of ‘soft-cell’ chairs called the Gel Collection that used a translucent elastic material.
One of his latest material experiments is the Hemp Chair. This concept, introduced last year, is a monobloc chair made of natural fibres, specifically hemp and kenaf (Malvaceae), and reinforced with a water-based acrylic resin called Acrodur from the German chemical company BASF, who also supported the project.
“The inspiration for the chair came from the material and of course the incredible new possibilities of the resin,” says Aisslinger. “It was a great opportunity to work with a company like BASF and develop new ideas and technologies.”
Acrodur is predominantly used in the automotive industry to make lightweight yet strong composite parts such as door linings, glove compartments or rear shelves; however, the Hemp Chair marks its first use in the furniture industry. The chair’s material consists of more than 70 per cent natural fibres in combination with Acrodur.
Acrodur’s underlying technology is based on the thermal cross-linking of polycarboxylic acids with a multifunctional alcohol. Unlike classic reactive resins, no organic substances, such as phenol or formaldehyde, are released during the cross-linking process. The only by-product caused by curing is water.
With the sheet material being lightweight, strong and easy to mould, Aisslinger decided to create a monobloc chair, which essentially involves shaping a complete chair structure from a thin layer of material. Many of us are familiar with the stackable monobloc chair in the form of the ubiquitous white plastic garden chair, but the Hemp Chair – with its soft curves and bead structure – proved rather challenging to design.
“It was and still is a challenge designing this chair as a monobloc. But I knew that a stackable monobloc chair was the best way to demonstrate all the fantastic possibilities of the new resin and the hemp material,” explains Aisslinger.
After creating the digital prototype of the chair, Aisslinger then created the physical prototype. From there he fashioned a mould to be used in the pro-duction process, a technique he refers to as press moulding.
This lightweight manufacturing process is used to make components for the automotive industry and involves just one production step – the raw materials and Acrodur are compressed together in the shape of the mould. Combining heat and pressure the material cures in the press to form a stiff yet incredibly strong composite.
The result is a very interesting and sustainable take on the monobloc chair. “The look is natural but also industrial. I like this combination,” says Aisslinger.
Having supported the project, BASF was also very pleased with the outcome. “For us it was important to show the versatility of natural fibres in combination with our binder,” says Dr Michael Kalbe, Technical Marketing Dispersions for Fibre Bonding at BASF. “Werner Aisslinger’s creation combines eco-friendliness, functionality, form and optics.”
The chair has been shown at a number of exhibitions, including the Milan Furniture Fair 2011 and Material Vision 2011, where it has been very well received. “The response was thrilling. I am sure people long for eco-friendly products,” says Aisslinger.
Although the Hemp Chair is just a concept, Aisslinger claims that it may not be long until people can actually own one. “We are confident that it will go into production in 2013,” he says.
“It is quite possible that I will use natural fibres in my future projects,” says Aisslinger. “Natural fibres are the future.”