London-based designer Benjamin Hubert explains the vision, research and production process behind Membrane armchair.
Membrane, one of Hubert and his team's latest projects, highlights the studio's material-centred process. The result of a close collaboration with German brand Classicon, the armchair was shown at Salone del Mobile in April.
With a 3-kg weight limit in mind, Hubert made the easily assembled chair from woven-mesh textile stretched over a metal structure. After an extensive interview in Frame 80, when he was a fledgling designer, we caught up with Hubert to hear about the process behind his new product.
Was the initial vision behind Membrane based on developing a new textile or re-inventing the armchair?
Benjamin Hubert: The idea was to create something voluminous without mass and with minimal material. We asked ourselves: does an armchair always have to be heavy, bulky or thickly upholstered? We also wanted to demonstrate how an inviting and capacious aesthetic can be achieved using transparent material. It had to be lightweight in every sense.
What steps did you take in your research and experimentation process?
Our research process usually begins with the following criteria: to create something new, it needs a good reason to exist. Can you make a product easier to use or more efficient, and increase performance while decreasing its carbon foot-print? With Membrane, we began by writing down all the words associated with our design brief to form a new topology. By researching what already existed, we came across the sports and tent industries. Both had already achieved this type of tension with space frames and stretched textiles. Similarly, we took inspiration from traditional airplane wings and Zeppelins.
Which techniques and machines did you employ?
Within our studio we have extensive working knowledge of 3D printing, rapid prototyping and injection moulding, but we also like to innovate and break ground with new techniques. For Membrane, we worked with Classicon, producing ergonomic mould prototypes we reviewed in our studio.
How does the shape of the structure correspond with stretched mesh textile?
The shape of the structure was based on engineering principles, conducive to a soft design language and ergonomics. Avoiding sharp angles and going for the lightest possible material, we opted for a base-structure that's CNC-milled out of aluminium and stainless steel. The flexibility and strength of the mesh textile, able to stretch over the base while supporting a human body, was determined by finding the right warp and weft in its woven pattern and then stitching it into one piece.
In terms of designing a lightweight armchair, what was the process in determining the right shape and material?
It remains an iterative process; we’re editing and improving Membrane for commercial use, which could take six to 12 months. What was presented at Salone del Mobile in April was still a prototype. At the moment, we are working on developing it for outdoor use with a weather-proof and lightweight stainless-steel base structure.