Digital Steam Bending
In the mid-nineteenth century, at the same time that Michael Thonet was manufacturing his iconic Chair no. 14, Great Lakes craftsmen utilized abundant regional lumber to construct bent-wood furniture. Steam-bent furniture was lightweight, rigid, and compact, making it ideal for mass production. But unlike many industrial processes, steam bending used local and renewable materials, required no toxic adhesives, and lent itself to easy disassembly.
In a climate of digital design dominated by supple surfaces, steam bending foregrounds the line both as primary space-making device and as a location for material resistance.
Operating in a recursive loop between digital modeling and full-scale prototyping, we ensured that the geometric articulation of various complex bends/assemblies was informed by the material constraints of different regional wood species.
Three structural systems emerged from early testing: a tetrahedral space frame, using Steiner Ellipses; a hyperbolic paraboloid, inspired by Thonet's No. 14 chair back; and a "wishbone" split, resulting in an arched truss. An additional research grant from the Office of the Vice President for Research will enable us to further develop these three full-scale assembly types to respond to various programmatic, structural, and site parameters in the coming year.
Josh Bard, Steven Mankouche, and Tsz Yan Ng
Project Team: Sara Dean, Luke Semo, Matthew Schulte, and Richard Tursky.