June 1, 2009
A Bright Future
To develop an affordable chair for children, a Swedish design firm turns to a new material with vast potential.
Last spring, a Swedish graduate student named Joakim Nygren was searching for a project for his master’s thesis at Stockholm’s Royal Institute of Technology. So he called up Claesson Koivisto Rune (CKR), one of the country’s most respected architecture and design firms, and offered his services. As it turned out, CKR had the perfect thing for Nygren: a vague concept for an affordable chair made out of paper pulp—sort of like an oversize egg carton that you could sit on.
“They wanted to have a cheap chair with design content,” Nygren explains. He started making phone calls and, before long, found the ideal material: DuraPulp, a composite of paper pulp and polylactic acid (a bioplastic derived from corn starch) developed by Södra, one of Europe’s biggest providers of wood products, and a Swedish research-and-development outfit called Innventia. CKR hoped to form DuraPulp into an adult chair, but the material’s strength and durability weren’t quite up to the task. They settled on a kids’ seat instead. “The material suited children very well, because it’s light and strong, durable and safe,” Nygren says. Also, the chair’s life cycle is short—it degrades after several years—so it made sense to create a product that its users would outgrow.
The first batch of Parupu prototypes was shown in April in Milan. A favorable reception there encouraged Södra and CKR to work on bringing chairs to the market (where the designers anticipate selling them for less than $50). But Eero Koivisto, one of CKR’s three principals, is already looking ahead to future applications of DuraPulp. “This is a material which is about the same strength as plastic and is completely biodegradable,” he says. “Because it’s new, we can’t do bigger, more complicated things right now. But I’m very sure you will be able to make them in maybe five years.” Perfect timing: that should be just long enough for Parupu’s users to outgrow their chairs and start clamoring for the next generation of paper-pulp seating.
The chair is approximately 75 percent pulp and 25 percent polylactic acid.
Parupu is lightweight, nontoxic, and water- resistant. At the end of its life, it will degrade in a landfill or compost heap in a matter of weeks.
DuraPulp could soon replace oil-based plastic packaging; the ability to manufacture full-size furniture is at least a few years away.