Royal College of Art - Design Products
An object halfway between sculpture and function, which questions the typical chair in an original way. Research and application of interesting material from recycled material. Even if we ask whether it is possible to organize a pathway from corks, and the rigidity of the seat is really the appointment, the questions and questions seem relevant, the school should be a place of project, search, questions, doubts…
Once Waste Material from the bottle-stopper industry, now a sleek eco-friendly chair. Vetebral's flexible yet sturdy tessellated cork cushion joins to the mono-spine base using only the material's inherent friction. Unlike traditional cork furniture, this chair features a low-profile design and weighs just under 5 lbs. Cork's bubble-form structure and natural thermal insulation create a positive tactile seating experience. Once disassembled, the cushion has a versatile second life, perhaps as a floor mat or bench pad.2. The Brief: Summarize the problem you set out to solve. What was the context for the project, and what was the challenge posed to you?
The Vertebral Chair resulted from "I am 7 Billion", a Royal College of Art's Design Products platform brief. The project, backed by Portuguese company, Amorim, proposed the creation of cork products or manufacturing process suitable for mass production in light of the steep drop in market shares for cork stoppers.
As the main export, Portuguese cork is accountable for around 70 percent of world trade and fuels around half the global cork production. The region's 6.7 million acres has fueled the world's wine-bottle stopper industry, accounting for 70% of cork output, fueling the countries economy and employing roughly10,000 Portuguese workers. However, in recent years, the increase of alternative closures such as synthetic wine stoppers and screw-tops has plunged the market share for cork stoppers and shaken Portugal's economy. With $2 billion in annual revenue at stake, cork producers are searching to expand into new markets and to diversify cork applications and manufacturing processes.3. The Intent: What point of view did you bring to the project, and were there additional criteria that you added to the brief?
Beginning the brief, I quickly recognized the combination of cork's impressive qualities, such as elasticity, compressive cellular-structure, and low density as the same characteristics which limit it's application. Alone, the material remains brittle and performs poorly under tension, resulting plastic coatings or thick blocked structures. Typically the cork is is applied as a substitution material, where its performance is subpar in comparison. The intent of my research was to uncover the material's full potential by capitalizing on it's inherent qualities.4. The Process: Describe the rigor that informed your project. (Research, ethnography, subject matter experts, materials exploration, technology, iteration, testing, etc., as applicable.) What stakeholder interests did you consider? (Audience, business, organization, labor, manufacturing, distribution, etc., as applicable)
Led by the material's qualities to inform my research, I began with a list of Cork specific properties. I quickly realized cork's manufacturing and design limitations resided mostly in the material's inability to perform well under tension, while showing excellent compressive properties.
Using geometry to fuel my experiments, I attempted to create forms which maximized the material's performance in compression. The first successful experiment was a set of laser cut cork tiles backed with fabric. By precutting cork sheet into smaller tessellated tiles, the surface area of each section is reduced allowing higher load tolerances. This composite allows the cork textiles to remain in compresssion while the fabric performs in tension in certain configurations. After dozens of experiments in geometry, tile thickness, tessellation pattern, etc. I discovered a low-profile rigid structure, performing well under tension in the absence of bracing was possible and could potentially hold a great deal of weight. I felt the translation of this concept was best done so through furniture. If a 3/4 inch cork textile proved strong enough to properly perform as a chair, I felt the concept would be adequately conveyed. Using CAD modeling to guide my design, I created a form which held each tile in compression. Utilizing the cork’s inharent properties, I routed out a central channel designed to grips the single rod base through cork's inherent friction. When in use, this joint is designed to be strengthened by the user’s weight. The Finalized design was laser cut and CNC routed, creating my first full-sized successful prototype. The chair proves sturdy and provides adequate seating. Cork textile can provide comfortable seating using simple geometry.5. The Value: How does your project earn its keep in the world? What is its value? What is its impact? (Social, educational, economic, paradigm-shifting, sustainable, environmental, cultural, gladdening, etc.)
The concept of fabric-backed-tessellated-cork textile provides a new world of possibilities in cork product design and fabrication. Countering cork's shortfall's this textile allows fabrication of low-profile tensioned cork structures. The geometry of the tiles can be uniform in shape or have a dedicated pattern for specific application and form. Edge detailing determines curvature or flexibility degree. This new composite can be used alone, hung from the ceiling as an acoustic installation, used in combination with steel rods to create seating structures, or even zipped together to create a temporary lightweight insulated disaster relief shelter.
I believe this product signifies the endless possibilities in cork product innovation and production.