Rue Kothari On The 3D Printing Revolution

03 August 2020
DIY Revolution, Sneakers, Rue Kothari, 3d Printing, Design, Sustainability
Illustration: Michael Hoeweler
Our design columnist on whether the future of furniture is on your desktop

I’ve always been an early adopter. I had the very first home computer, the ZX Spectrum and worked with the internet when people thought it was just a fad. Anything that revolutionises how we interact with information has me at the ‘on’ switch.

I had the same obsession when I discovered 3D printing. It may have been pioneered by white-coated inventors in the ’80s for prototyping industrial technology, but just a decade later had advanced so much that researchers were able to print a human bladder for successful implantation. Today, you can buy a desktop 3D printer for just $200 on Amazon. And while you work out what on earth you actually want to do with your fabulous new printer, the real innovators are printing cars, houses and even food.

It’s a brave new world being spat out of a nozzle at great speed. While the idea of 3D printing has now become so commonplace that we barely bat an eyelid at it, the notion of being able to emancipate design from expensive and ecologically damaging processes of manufacturing and distribution is an idea with a lot of (carbon-free) mileage.

Earlier this year at Stockholm’s Design Week, there was much talk of sustainability, conscious consumption and the democratisation of design. Alexandra Lervik, one of Sweden’s most prolific designers, treated a lucky few of us to a presentation of his work. Aside from his prodigious output – creating 12 new products in six months (making us all wonder if he ever sleeps) – he is thinking beyond the object to the impact of its existence in the world.

Read Next

Gucci’s New Off The Grid Collection Aims For Sustainability

The best example of this is the Terra Chair. Designed by Lervik and produced by Design House Stockholm (DHS), the blueprints are free to download. Basically, it’s yours if you can build it. Lervik, as an early adopter of 3D printing technology, clearly grasped the potential of putting production in the hands of the people. Back in his 2009 TED Talk, he advocated for a Spotify-style platform that will allow anyone to scroll through a library of objects and download the ones they like.

Now he and DHS are looking for craftspeople and manufacturers all over the world to partner with, to help bring the Terra chair to the people. Picture this: a man in Malaysia wants to buy the chair. He downloads the design, takes it to his local carpenter or factory who use the blueprint to make the chair. When it’s ready, he goes to pick it up. There is no costly mass production and wastage, no pointless packaging and expensive shipping – no e-commerce marketing flim-flam. Just buy online and get it made locally.

This works because the materials and assembly are designed to make the chair universally easy to make. It puts the onus back on the designers to create something beautiful, sustainable and simple to produce.

It makes intrinsic sense, conceptually and financially, and no wonder. Lervik comes from Sweden, a country that leads the way in environmental technology and subscribes to something called lagom. No, it’s not an IKEA sideboard, this is the word for something being ‘just right’ – summing up Swedish ideals of equality and fairness.

Taking the same approach with an entirely different output is the award-winning design team Form Us With Love. We encountered their new invention inexplicably in the depths of a military bunker in Stockholm doubling as a vintage toy museum (go figure).

The designers are renowned for their production ethics and sustainable principles. Their new venture, Forgo, is a product that ‘foregoes’ traditional handwash – which is mostly water, packaging and expensive logistics – in favour of a small sachet of powder that, when added to water, creates 250mg of liquid soap. The powdered soap is scented with wood scraps from Canadian timber yards and leftover citrus peel and pulp from organic juicing plants in the Caribbean. It’s packaged in recycled paper and will be available to order online for direct delivery.

As with many new sustainable ventures, it’s not cheap or easy to produce. They’re seeking crowdfunding to get it to the next step, but they are already not short of supporters.

With all the noise about sustainability and wastage that surrounds these design weeks, it’s often the big, bold ideas that are bound to bear fruit. Maybe not as quickly as printing your own Nike replicas, but just like the tech revolution, they open the door to strategic innovation that will help change the way we buy and behave. So, while we may not all be hydrating our hand soap next month, there’s every chance that, like the ZX Spectrum, wild innovations will lead to lasting change.