How Technology Informs the Craft Revolution

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By Patrick Sisson / Published by Dwell
An exhibition at Design Museum Holon showcases products that marry handicraft and high-tech.

Technological advances are often positioned as if they’re part of a zero-sum game in design; how can a mass-produced, high-tech table be as beautiful as a handmade piece by a master craftsman? With the exhibition "Gathering," on view at Israel’s Design Museum Holon through October 25, 2014, curators Lidewij Edelkoort and Philip Fimmano aim to show that the storyline that technology gets in the way of craftsmanship doesn't make sense anymore. The exhibition instead shows how traditional workmanship and computer-aided design create intriguing hybrids. Dwell spoke with Edelkoort, a trend forecaster and founder of Edelkoort Inc. in New York,  about the theory behind the exhibition.

Named after explorer Claude Bernard and anthropologist Claude Levi-Strauss, Annika Frye's rotomolded Claude lamps are made by fitting polymer plaster into a spinning mold. The seams and irregularlities of the process are visible on each pendant.

How are new technologies and materials not only expanding the world of crafts, but helping designers create new ones? 

Designer Issey Miyake used algorithms, textile engineering, and 3-D modeling to create the recycled polymer garments in his future-forward 132 5. collection.

All the forms of gathering in our exhibition—including needlework, cooking and crafting—go back in time and can be seen as belonging to the collective memory of our mothers and grandmothers. In an incredible reversal of roles, these historical memories are now feeding our high-tech industries—driving them to review the production process with new and more abundant options, lending a sense of frivolity to industrial design, feminizing the modernist movement, domesticating the creation of form. Felting, smocking, quilting and pleating have become industrialized. Ribboning and haberdashery are reinterpreted in plywood and even concrete. And materials such as polyester, clay, and soil are baked or inflated like a high-rising cake or bread. The 132 5. Issey Miyake collection in the museum’s lower gallery mixes origami techniques with Japanese artisanal crafts, yet profits from the latest eco-savvy developments in fiber technology and recycling.

Elisa Strozyk's Miss Maple Lamp turns wooden triangles into a sophisticated geometric form that produces a dark, natural aura when lit.

How have workspaces grown to accommodate this new style of creation, where the hand and machine are one?

Polish-born designer Aleksandra Gaca created these next-level bean bag chairs, which she calls Slumber Poufs, out of woven, three-dimensional fabrics including Kid Mohair and merino wool.

Innovators and smart engineers studied new production systems and robotic programming that are somehow able to reproduce our ancestors’ needle skills and visual memories. Driven by a young generation of designers, the creative industries have fabricated miracles on smarter machines, learning by trial and error just like our grandmothers, who would undo a knit and start all over again to get it right. 

Utilizing lightweight LED technology, Arik Levy's Wireflow pendant lamps are an airy, geometric take on lighting design.

Today, robots, machines and programming go hand-in-hand with sketching, modeling, and maquette making. The workspace is a laboratory for both manual experimentation and computer-aided design. Often, studios are organized as collectives so that expensive machines and tools can be shared. Designers love their machines so much that they treat them as partners or assistants. The result is the birth of a new hybrid form of production that brings together man and machine. 

London-based designer Julian Mayor used fiberglass to turn a three-dimensional sketch into three-dimensional piece with the General Dynamic chair.

What pieces stick out to you as being particularly groundbreaking?

Fashioned from polypropylene and lacquered metal, Floris Wubben's No. 3 Bench gives organic form to artifical materials. The bench uses wooden branches as supports.

Since Philip Fimmano and I began curating this exhibit, the baked objects were among those that stood out as innovative since they mixed a desire for an organic, almost pre-historic form with new ways of growing and cooking materials. The idea that a piece of design must be put into an oven heralds a time when science and technology will merge more freely with the creative industries. 

Turning aggression into art, Israeli designer Itay Ohaly's Fracture Bench explores the effects of smashing materials.

How will the growth of this type of design change how we organize our homes?

Rami Tareef displays traditional weaving techniques in a striking, modern fashion with the Yellow Warbler, a chair formed by wrapping polypropylene cord around a steel frame.

In the future, people will want to combine both the warmth of humanized design with the coolness of the other digital accessories present in our lives. It’s no longer a question of either/or but really more a case of embracing old and new, ethno and techno, natural and synthetic and beyond. This new era of fusion between opposites is truly of our time and will determine lifestyle choices into the decades to come.

Designed by Nendo for Issey Miyake, the Cabbage Chair is made from tightly wound waste paper, cut and then folded over to create organic, irregular curves.

Nir Meiri's 19 Pots Ceiling Lamp is made of discarded vessels.

Israeli studio Producks and textile designer Mika Barr collaborated on Poli, a seating system upholstered with synthetic patterned textile that produces eye-catching folds and angles once it's been occupied.

Seemingly spun from some kind of massive loom, these chairs by Raw-Edges Design Studio are experiments in felt and resin.