Yet a long time and a lot of experience is required when 3D printing is used to produce dainty objects of exquisite beauty, like Alessandro Zambelli’s Afillia lamp for Italian company .exnovo.

The lamp features a laser-sintered nylon shade with a honeycomb-like pattern of holes – the almost
hypnotic beauty of which is pleasantly in contrast with its wooden structure.

“I wanted to create a shape that could only be made through 3D printing,” explains Zambelli. “Yet I also wanted to make something with a basis in tradition: I was envisaging an object that, although imbued with new technologies, would also show off the ancient knowhow of the place in which it was conceived and developed – north-east Italy.”

The shape that Zambelli refers to was inspired by the botanic world. “I first thought of the lamp as a plant, with a trunk and the leaves, and light peeping through them. I was once looking at a tree and started thinking what it could be like if light was shining through it, as if the source was inside its branches. And so Afillia was born.”

Afillia is manufactured using two very different technologies – 3D printing and turning. Zambelli explains: “You have to think of a container, shaped as a parallelepipedon, inserted in a sort of oven where micro-particles of nylon dust are added, one on top of the other, and later laser-fused together. The machine proceeds in this way, layer after layer, until it reaches the top of the container: at this stage it has realised a precise three-dimensional object inside the original volume. This process is called sintering,” says Zambelli.

“The next step is the exact opposite – it basically uses compressed air and micro-sanding systems to clean the object inside the container. And the product finally magically appears (only hours before it was a mere computer drawing). It all feels like being an archeologist, in a way, taking things back to life from the dust.”

As for the base of the lamp, “it is made through traditional craftsmanship techniques such a turning and manual milling – in Alto Adige, the area in which .exnovo is located. There is a long tradition for this,” Zambelli says.

What is so fascinating about Afillia is its capacity to mix lightness and complexity. If you spend some time reading Zambelli’s website you will see that lightness is exactly what the work of this designer is all about.

“Sometimes objects smile. And, in this, they reveal their secret: they do not take themselves too seriously. Everything, then, becomes suddenly more transparent and their soul becomes light, essential, meaningful.”

It very much sounds like writer Italo Calvino’s lesson for good literature from his essay Lightness from Six Memos for the New Millenium. Yet for Zambelli, “there is no definite recipe to reach this lightness”. What he personally does is to base his ideas on real-life experiences.

“I often find myself attracted to a particular image or colour, captured by the harmony that it breathes out. Those little moments add quality to my day. In all my projects, I try to insert concepts or situations that make me feel well. For instance, with Afillia, I imagined a plant on a balcony and its shape against the light.

“Linking objects to this type of mental image gives them a ‘light soul’, which is simply something that makes whoever looks at them feel good because it reconnects them to some place where they feel they belong.”   

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