Design by Performance: Out of Thin Air

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Design technologies constantly strive to reduce the material resistance between concept and fabrication, and few developments have done as much to this end as rapid prototyping. Like an old-fashioned printer for three-dimensional forms, the technique uses laser-hardened liquid plastic to form a three-dimensional version of objects designed with digital modeling software. For several years, Sweden- and sometimes Japan-based firm FRONT Design has used the process to create furniture that is literally sketched by hand. Members of the group stand in front of an array of cameras and physically draw the outline of an object on a 1:1 scale in the air. Motion capture software then translates their gestures into a three-dimensional rendering, which is made into a material object using rapid prototyping equipment. The resulting 'Sketch Furniture' retains all the approximated lines and rough shading of a hand-drawn sketch--like an unrefined design that has gone directly from notebook to object. Not only is the finished product an unrivaled example of a trend in design toward work that utilizes technology to facilitate a handmade aesthetic, but the work also bears the mark of a process that contains a heavy performance element. As the designers trace the lines of the furniture for the motion-capture equipment, their gestures turn the drafting process into a kind of ballet. Examples of the dance can be watched on YouTube and on the firm's Web site.