NOW THAT “DIGITAL CARPENTRY” HAS COME TO EXIST,
HOW DO YOU MAKE IT AUTHENTIC?
By Bruce Sterling
THE “BLOBJECT” WAS THE DESIGN
darling of the 1990s. Blob-shaped objects
pushed the limits of what was technically
possible: they married the fluidity of the new
computer design to the amorphous qualities of
So everything from cellphones to major museums
ached to be bulgy, bouncy, ripply, and radically
curvilinear. The true joy of blobjects is that they’re
ergonomic — people are blobjects too, so when our
intimate possessions become more forgiving and
finger-friendly, we feel more at ease with them.
The 1990s loved blobjects in much the way that
the 1930s loved streamlining: for many good and
sensible reasons and some silly ones. There was
always something a little uneasy-making about
streamlined coffins and pencil sharpeners, and
blobjects have limits, too. Not everything can
aspire to the complex, luscious, plastic curves
of a half-sucked popsicle.
At a glance, there’s no way to tell if plastic will
outperform cast iron or crumble like paraffin. It’s
hard to fully trust a swoopy Vernor Panton plastic
chair: it looks like it ought to snap violently under
your weight and sever your legs at the knees.
So how do you get the huge advantages of computer-aided design and machining without a big,
expensive cauldron full of treacherous, colored
goo? You could try a fabricator — also known as a
3D printer, stereolithographer, rapid prototyper, or
rapid manufacturer. But, these futuristic gizmos
aren’t quite ready for the consumer prime time.
That leaves the humble router. The router
doesn’t spit goo like a plastics shop or layer stuff up
like a fab; cheap and simple routers are the hum-blest of computer-controlled shop tools, basically
just a spinning, toothy bit on metal tracks.
A router can dip up and down through the thickness of a sheet of plywood, and also roam from side
to side across that board, slicing complex curves
like a print head traveling across a sheet of paper.
The upshot of an afternoon’s work with the
router is a pile of crumbled router dust and a mess
of complex 2D shapes, much like animal crackers.
It remains to turn these shapes into something
elegant and useful.
The Truss Collection is a commercially available
set of chairs, benches, desks, and tables that all
speak eloquently of their inherent routerliness. They
were created by Scott Klinker of the Cranbrook
Academy of Art.
Scott Klinker is determined
to make the router speak
its own design language.
A routered thing shouldn’t
be a mere downmarket
knockoff of some earlier
method of carpentry.
Like the other artists-in-residence at the Cranbrook
Academy, Klinker works as he teaches. He and
some Cranbrook students are determined to make
the router speak its own design language. You
might put it this way: now that “digital carpentry”
has come to exist, how do you make it authentic?
A routered thing shouldn’t be a mere downmarket
knockoff of some earlier method of carpentry.
A router is a new thing in the world, so a clever
designer should master it and use it expressively.
According to Klinker, there are three known
methods of construction where the humble router
The first and simplest method is the “stack of
sections.” You take the routered pieces and pile ’em
Photograph by Bruce Sterling
24 Make: Volume 11