Design Stories

Technology For The Senses

25 May 2012
Technology For The Senses

Experiments in technology are necessary for advancing the process of innovation — going beyond current limits, opening new possibilities. The driving force is the question of what a machine is capable of beyond the human hand. But this profound question can be a trap.


It is all too easy to become absorbed in the idea of innovation and lose sight of the end goal: a product must be comprehensible to a person uninvolved in its creation. As fascinated as we may be with evolving a new technology, we keep two questions in mind: what is the object for? And: who is the object for?


We believe that technology should lead to an end result — not be the end result. We seek a technology that strives to further define the essence of the piece — while at the same time creating a better relationship between object and person. Ideally, this technology is invisible, intuitive and silent. It should whisper, not shout. A dancer seduces us with visible beauty, never revealing the muscular effort behind the movement.


In the same way the technique of the dance becomes invisible as we are caught up in the spirit of moment, so too must technology fuse seamlessly into the object so that all we are left with is experience. This is what we call “Soft Tech.”

Pix Upholstery © Mark Mahaney
Interior structure © Mark Mahaney

What is “Soft Tech”?


When we think of ‘technology,’ we often think of progress, innovation and advancement.


It is less frequent that we are able to associate technology with ideas of warmth, personality and human experience. Arper has developed a design approach and philosophy that subtly and naturally integrates technology — digital design and production tools, nuanced mechanical functions and customizable manufacturing processes — into an object’s design while not sacrificing human interaction or aesthetic considerations.


The result is intuitive — forms that are comfortable, light and livable — without concerns of how the object functions or why, but rather an innate recognition of the form. “Soft Tech,” it is not technology for technology’s sake, but innovation in its purest form: technology in the service of beauty and human interaction.

Laser cutting fabric for upholstery © Mark Mahaney

“Soft Tech” is quiet. Lightness, strength, intelligence.


Sometimes the best design is felt, not seen. Elegant and graceful forms should confer a feeling of durability, capability and function. We achieve this through diverse processes that create built-in strength so that slender profiles can be achieved.


With Catifa, we have imbedded a solid foundation into the sumptuous, organic form, through a careful combination of materials. For Catifa 70, an iron frame injected with polyurethane permitted additional durability without sacrificing the sleek curvatures. For Catifa 46, a bi-layer injection process was created to create a seamless two-colored chair — a first in the industry. When it came time to translate this form into wood for Catifa 53, we turned to 3-D Plywood Technology, forming the plywood into a double curvature using an alluminium mold, giving the shell strength without the need for structural supports.


With the process of hydroforming, a steel tube is placed inside a mold and injected with water at high pressures, which alters the tube, shaping it to match the walls of the mold. The result is a complex, specific form with high strength — a process used in the formation of our legs for Saari. This technique can then be covered in veneer or fabric, allowing for the strength and support of a metal leg, but with the delicacy and softness of a wood or other material finish.


Even when the function produces a visible result — as with the height adjustment mechanism stealthily hidden under the seat of the Babar chair — the technology itself remains invisible.

Hydroformed tube legs © Mark Mahaney

“Soft Tech” combines technology and handiwork. Like a good marriage, the combination of two parts together can produce a stronger foundation than either individually. With Nuur, aluminum die-cast technology makes it possible to obtain the maximum level of visual lightness, formal continuity and fluid lines. It allows for an impossibly slim tabletop — made structurally possible by a rib placed invisibly under the top. The frame, composed of crossbeam and angle braces, allows for a wide range of sizes, using a minimum of basic pieces.


To achieve this form, a combination of technologies is employed: aluminum injection for the molded leg and extruded aluminum beams to support the length of the table.


These technologies combine to create a cohesive visual whole. But, in order to achieve this continuity of form, each piece is individually fabricated, assembled and then adjusted, refined and milled within less than one-millimeter tolerance. The attention to the combination is what makes it a perfect union.

Engineered joints Nuur © Marco Covi

Soft Tech sometimes means “Low Tech.” Or “No Tech”. Even in the digital age, sometimes the best technology is the one that has been with us for thousands of years of evolution: the human hand. At the artisan’s hand, the fluid forms of Pix, Loop and Duna are created from an extensive catalog of fabrics with different elastic features which are smoothed together using masterful attention to detail and responding to each individual piece.


Similarly, to create the organic form of Leaf, a template was designed that allows each vein to be manually bent, placed and soldered with different lengths and forms. The technology disappears and we are left with shapes that are natural, lovely, familiar. It is the feeling of nature, intuitive and emotional technology beyond any machine.