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Living in a Material World

Furniture designers are often inspired by new materials, which enable new possibilities in creating objects. What are the latest developments in the material world, and how are they being harnessed by our local designers? Hint: sustainability seems to be a prominent driver of R&D.

The designers at the Singapore University of Technology and Design’s Architectural Intelligence Research Lab (AIRLAB SUTD) have been busy at the DB Schenker UpCycling Lab. Led by architect Carlos Bañón, the team is repurposing packaging waste to create furniture such as foam lounge chairs, cardboard coffee tables, communal pallet tables and large-scale chandeliers using 3D printing and digital manufacturing methods.


A 4-metre lampshade 3D printed using material from plastic bottles, which will be part of the DB Schenker Lunchroom come June. This project is funded by NAMIC (National Advanced Manufacturing Innovation Cluster). Image courtesy of AIRLAB SUTD.

“We collected different kinds of plastics, cardboard, and other items to create a whole space using waste for the concept design,” says Bañón. “We wanted to go beyond the lunchroom programmatic requirements and create a space that raises awareness about wastage and upcycling processes.” 

When the space is completed at the end of June, it will be used daily by DB Schenker employees as their lunchroom. Harnessing these developments in technology, AIRLAB SUTD is able to transform material to become viable – and innovative – furniture pieces.


The AI_Table. Image courtesy of AIRLAB SUTD, image credit: Fabian Ong.

Their AI_Table combines traditional industry techniques such as bronze casting with cutting-edge high-resolution 3D printed technology, and has recently won several international awards. Having received critical acclaim, AIRLAB SUTD is working with local solid surface supplier and material specialist Luxx Newhouse to produce the AI_Table for commercial sale.

Turning Waste into Re-Material

AIRLAB SUTD is not the only one that has been experimenting with new technologies to convert waste material into furniture. As sustainability becomes an increasingly pressing concern in recent years, material innovation is also increasingly geared towards solving the waste challenges created by our contemporary society.

Forest & Whale, a sustainability-minded multidisciplinary design practice, has been researching into a range of materials, processes and design solutions to solve the problem of single use plastic waste in food packaging.

Homegrown second-generation furniture makers Roger&Sons is conducting R&D into how felled local trees can be processed and used to create furniture and household products, rather than going to waste.


Outdoor furniture created from local raintrees that had been felled for the new bird park. This bench is a part of Roger&Sons’ Local Tree Project, where they make fine furniture and objects out of salvaged local logs. Image credit: Roger&Sons.

Nurturing Material R&D in Singapore

The above two projects are a part of the DesignSingapore Council’s Good Design Research (GDR) initiative, launched last year to support designers who are keen to undertake deep research to create works and solutions with impact.

The GDR is one great platform for designers who are keen to research into materials. Through GDR’s resource listing, designers may connect with material innovators and experts to engage for their research projects,” Jacks Yeo, Deputy Executive Director, DesignSingapore Council, says. “Furniture manufacturers may also join our network of partners and share their expertise and challenges with designers.”

He notes that furniture designers here are keen to understand how the industry can work together to create greater awareness and improve local production standards and capabilities, so that more designers may tap on them to produce quality, locally-made furniture. Initiatives such as GDR give space for explorations and failures to occur, so that designers and manufacturers alike are empowered to think out of the box and germinate innovation.

Material Exploration as Partnership

Singaplural, an annual design platform organised by the Singapore Furniture Industries Council (SFIC), has traditionally been an opportunity for pushing the boundaries of material exploration. It is during this festival that designers joined forces with brands from the furniture, manufacturing and construction industry to create exciting displays that showcase the best of what innovative materials in service of creative ideation can achieve.

While Singaplural is currently on hiatus, SFIC is still very much actively engaging its members and non-members alike to connect and create mutually beneficial partnerships. One example of such collaboration is Matterzoo, a soon-to-be-launched one-stop resource that designers can tap on for material sample swatches across an extensive range of brands, suppliers and manufacturers. 


Matterzoo: an up-and-coming one-stop material resource designers can look forward to. Image credit: Matterzoo.

In lieu of Singaplural, SFIC has also launched the Design Innovation Programme (DIP) to nurture partnerships between material manufacturers, contractors and designers. 

“Knowing that such collaborations involve long discussions, we have been asked by these parties to keep such potential discussions confidential till an opportune time arises,” an SFIC spokesperson says.  

“The SFIC is also constantly on the lookout for the use of technology and ways of putting materials to good use into new furniture; and in a more sustainable way too,” he adds.

Indeed, it seems that players across the board take sustainability as the watchword of this day and age. Material R&D not only provides exciting new possibilities in furniture retail market, but is also a way to consider our human impact on the world and how we might be more responsible about it.


[by Michelle JN Lim]

28 April 2021

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