ExhibitionsJoris Laarman Lab: Design in the Digital Age
Past Exhibition

Joris Laarman Lab: Design in the Digital Age

February 18 – May 13, 2018

Joris Laarman Lab: Design in the Digital Age presents work spanning the career of innovative Dutch designer Joris Laarman. Laarman and his Lab are design pioneers and idea detonators whose intellectual and thoughtful approach to design is marked by combining science, technology, restless curiosity, and creativity with lyrical aesthetics. Laarman’s experimental methods of fabrication continually propel him to explore new processes for creating and have made him one of today’s most compelling designers.

Organized by the Groninger Museum, the Netherlands, this exhibition features furniture designs, applied projects and experiments from every phase of Laarman’s career, which are presented alongside related videos, sketches and renderings that illustrate the Joris Laarman Lab’s creative and production processes. Founded in 2004, the Lab is a multidisciplinary hub of scientists, engineers, programmers and craftspeople who explore the possibilities of design through research, experimentation and groundbreaking technology.

The exhibition features numerous designs from the High’s collection, which boasts the largest public holdings of the Dutch artist’s work outside of his home country.

Digital Matter

Laarman designed the three Digital Matter tables here for the High Museum of Art in 2011, a commission project that challenged him to think about the future of design. He was inspired by research into programmable materials conducted at three American universities to create the material in these tables, which consists of mini computers that together can form objects in a way similar to how cells form organisms. Uploading different designs onto the digital material causes it to take on different shapes.Joris Laarman Lab programmed a robotic arm to build three ornamental tables on the basis of a digital blueprint. The tables are made of small metal cubes called voxels (“volumetric pixels”) that are three-dimensional versions of pixels. While the tables’ design alludes to the Rococo period, the ornaments—little flowers and clouds—come from the world of Super Mario, a famous video game character created in 1965. Over time, Mario’s digital resolution became higher and higher, until he finally looked less blocky and more realistic, just like the tables. The voxels used for each successive iteration of the tables (measuring 10, 5, and 3 mm, respectively) undergo a similar evolution. With these tables, Laarman looks to a future when the resolution of digital material will be so high that the individual voxels cannot be seen by the naked eye.Digital Matter, Kilovoxel table; Megavoxel table; Gigavoxel table, 2011
Nickelplated Neodymium voxels (3mm, 5mm, 10mm)
Collection Groninger Museum, with support of Mondrian Fund

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Reinventing Functionality

Joris Laarman graduated from the Design Academy in Eindhoven in 2003 after completing a project called Reinventing Functionality. It explored the roles of function, form, and decoration in designed utilitarian objects in the twenty-first century.The project included a prototype for the Heatwave radiator and components of the Ivy climbing wall. Both objects refer to the Baroque period and push against the influential modernist ideal of functionalism, a notion that called for design that was free of all forms of ornament. Decorations were considered superfluous, undesirable, and sometimes even immoral. This resulted in an austere, often geometric and minimalist language that has remained influential to this day. With this body of work, Laarman interjected utilitarian function and form with exuberant ornamentation to create a new visual language.Heatwave is a radiator that looks like an over-the-top Baroque wall sculpture. The lavish curls provide it with a greater surface area so its heat output is more efficient than more minimally shaped radiators. Heatwave initially was produced as an electric radiator by Dutch design collective Droog and is currently being produced in a hot water version by Belgian company Jaga.The Ivy climbing wall is an ode to the freedom to play and decorate. It is simultaneously an elegant architectural element and a means of exercise that incorporates ornamental curvilinear forms to transform sterile white walls into a playful, interactive environment.To learn more visit our Collections Page on Joris Laarman at the High.Heatwave, 2004
Cast polyconcrete
Courtesy Joris Laarman Lab

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Bone Furniture

Bone Furniture is one of Laarman’s best-known series. Rather than being made of bones, the pieces were created using computer software developed for the European automotive industry. Laarman based the series on German professor Dr. Claus Mattheck’s scientific research on the structural growth patterns of bone and trees and their capacity to add, remove, and redistribute matter in response to external stimuli. Laarman began thinking about the Bone Furniture series in 2004 when he saw a documentary on Mattheck’s research.Laarman saw in Mattheck’s research the transformation from the industrial era (geometric, machine-dictated form) to the digital era (smart, complex, organic form). Fascinated by the software’s accuracy as well as the unexpected beauty it could produce, Laarman created the first Bone Chair, which he made of aluminum. He used the software to experiment with and sculpt using an evolutionary process. Laarman succeeded in designing a chair inspired by organic shapes and using the logic that underlies organic forms in nature.Laarman cast all the chairs in this series in a 3-D-printed mold. After the aluminum version, he released six others in different materials and designs. Reduced to the elements of utility, efficiency, and the conservation of material, Laarman’s designs put a contemporary twist on the modernist credo of “form follows function” while also challenging the geometric aesthetic usually associated with minimalist design and architecture.To learn more visit our Collections Page on Joris Laarman at the High.Bone Armchair, 2007
Carrara marble and synthetic resin
Courtesy Joris Laarman Lab

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For his Microstructures project, Laarman explored the boundaries of the technology by designing something so complex that only a 3-D printer could produce it. While 3-D printing technology has been around since the 1980s, the choice of materials it could print was limited to plastics until very recently. Joris Laarman Lab’s work consistently elevates 3-D printing—which advanced printing technology at a level analogous to that of the printing press—beyond its current stage to create finely conceived works of artistry.The long, vertical cells of Adaption Chair form legs under the seat that morph as they extend upward to address different functions in other parts of the chair. They continue to fan out into increasingly finer branches that eventually form the seat’s surface, similar to how a tree’s branches support its leaf canopy. The Lab printed a lightweight substrate using a computer-controlled laser to sinter nylon powder particles together layer by layer. They next coated the structure in metal, which provides it with strength, then finally burned away the 3-D-printed components.Adaption Chair, 2014
Copper, TPU
Barry Friedman, New York

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The word “maker” in the name of this series of chairs refers to the maker movement, a counter movement in design that rejects the generic and mass produced. It emphasizes the combination of DIY and traditional methods with new technologies—for instance, 3-D printing and computer numerical control (CNC) technology (computer numerical control: computer-controlled machines such as a cutter).Given the expectation that digital fabrication will play an increasingly important role in local production processes worldwide, Laarman designed chairs consisting of small elements that can be produced on relatively small and affordable machines and subsequently assembled, like 3-D puzzles. The chair’s basic curved shape refers to the iconic plastic chair that famous Danish designer Verner Panton created in the 1960s. His was the first monolithic chair, and it cited Dutch designer Gerrit Rietveld’s famous wooden zigzag chair, so Laarman’s design also illustrates his continuing fascination with connecting the past to the present.Laarman has realized the Makerchairs using various techniques—from 3-D printing to CNC milling—and in materials including wood, synthetic resin, metal, and plastic. Combining craftsmanship and computer-controlled technology, he has experimented with different patterns, including puzzle pieces, stripes, and diamonds. Some versions of the Makerchair blueprint can be downloaded from the Internet under creative commons license at bitsandparts.org.Makerchairs: Diamond, Puzzle Wood, Maze, Diagon Resin, 2014
Maple and walnut
Courtesy Joris Laarman Lab
Photo credit: Leonard Faustle

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Vortex Bookcase

With the advent of digital design technology and digital fabrication, personalized and customized design is an increasingly important and desired outcome. Laarman created the Vortex bookcase using generative design. In this case, various computer simulations (on display nearby) generate ever-changing variations of seemingly random, swirling forms that become increasingly wild.The simulation can be stopped at any moment and the resulting configuration processed into a bookcase. As a result, each bookcase has its own individual shape. This allows users to choose how much ornament they want: it’s like a duel between functionality and decoration.Vortex is a collaboration with artist and aerospace engineer Mark J. Stock, who focuses on themes such as dynamic everyday physical processes, including rotary motion in gases or liquids (a vortex) or the fusion of fluids. Using special software, he mimics such processes and makes visible things we might never witness otherwise.Vortex Console Prototype (short/long), 2014
Courtesy Joris Laarman Lab

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Several years ago, Joris Laarman Lab developed the MX3D printing technique, which made it possible for robots to print large metal objects for the very first time. While 3-D printing has been around for a number of years, the technique hasn’t yet been used to produce very large functional objects. Joris Laarman Lab is attempting to raise the level of digital fabrication by developing large, functional objects in durable materials such as steel.The first version of MX3D used a rapid-curing synthetic resin that solidified as soon as it came out of the nozzle. This made it possible to “draw in the air” with lines rather than with layers, the usual 3-D-printing method. Next, an industrial robot was fitted with a sophisticated welding machine that enabled it to print a variety of materials, including aluminum and stainless steel.The designs on display here resulted from experiments involving the use of parametric modeling software, which updates the entire model when a designer alters one feature of it. To create a self-supporting yet open, airy object, the Lab developed a netlike structure of criss-crossing lines. Sketches of multiple design versions are displayed on the wall nearby. This technology serves as the basis for Laarman’s most recent undertaking, the conception and 3-D printing of a workable bridge over one of Amsterdam’s oldest canals.To learn more visit our Collections Page on Joris Laarman at the High.MX3D (Dragon Bench) (Prototype), 2014
Stainless steel
Purchase with funds from the Decorative Arts Endowment and gift of the designer and Freidman Benda, 2014.282

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Experimentation fuels the creative process at Joris Laarman Lab. It allows the team to test new ideas and technologies, explore fabrication methods, and investigate forms and narratives, critical to the evolution of their work. The experimental objects in this section provide a small sample of those lining the shelves in the Lab’s Amsterdam-based workshop and suggest the range of the Laarman team’s curiosity.A bioluminescent lamp made from firefly cells, a table whose form is inspired by the flight patterns of starlings, and a vase that deteriorates with each cast are examples of how the Joris Laarman Lab incubates concepts and develops ideas in its expanding and imaginative body of work.Forest Small (coffee table), 2010
Aluminum, resin
Courtesy Joris Laarman Lab

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Combining reason with emotion, that’s the most difficult thing to do — in design and in everything.

Joris Laarman

Joris Laarman Lab

Robots printing a bridge; furniture emulating the structure of bones; Rococo voxel tables; an array of inventive, digitally fabricated chairs. Dutch designer, inventor, and artist Joris Laarman (born 1979) is one of the most prominent designers of his generation. He graduated from the Design Academy in Eindhoven, Holland, in 2003 and founded the Joris Laarman Lab in 2004—first in Rotterdam and later in Amsterdam—with his partner, filmmaker Anita Star.

Laarman and his team focus on research and experimentation. They are pioneers in a field where design, technology, science, and art meet. The Lab is where they test new technologies and production methods. Here, collaboration between the worlds of high tech and craftsmanship is of fundamental importance.
Laarman’s methods push the boundaries of the disciplines he is exploring and developing. A prolific producer of more than just ideas, Laarman often includes references to historical art periods, such as Baroque or Art Nouveau, which can be seen through his recurring use of ornament—a signifier of the importance of form and aesthetics with function. Laarman emphasizes these connections to the past in conjunction with his futuristic production methods. His pieces symbolize the ongoing power struggle between tradition and innovation as well as between technology and craftsmanship—current topics in the design world.

Joris Laarman Lab: Design in the Digital Age is organized by the Groninger Museum, the Netherlands and was curated by Mark Wilson and Sue-an van der Zijpp, the Groninger Museum.

Support for this exhibition is provided by

Creative Industries Fund NL

Premier Exhibition Series Partner

Exhibition Series Sponsors

Premier Exhibition Series Supporters

Anne Cox Chambers Foundation, The Antinori Foundation, Ann and Tom Cousins, Sarah and Jim Kennedy, Jane and Hicks Lanier, Louise Sams and Jerome Grilhot

Contributing Exhibition Series Supporters

Barbara and Ron Balser, Corporate Environments, Peggy Foreman, James F. Kelly Charitable Trust, Jane Smith Turner Foundation, The Lubo Fund, Margot and Danny McCaul, Joyce and Henry Schwob

Generous support is also provided by

Alfred and Adele Davis Exhibition Endowment Fund, Anne Cox Chambers Exhibition Fund, Barbara Stewart Exhibition Fund, Dorothy Smith Hopkins Exhibition Endowment Fund, Eleanor McDonald Storza Exhibition Endowment Fund, Forward Arts Foundation Exhibition Endowment Fund, Helen S. Lanier Endowment Fund, Howell Exhibition Fund, John H. and Wilhelmina D. Harland Exhibition Endowment Fund