Bent Out of Shape

A Swiss research project proposes a new way to manufacture curved wooden panels.

Manufacturing curved parts from plain materials like wood is typically a labor-intensive, time-­consuming, and costly process involving specialized molds and jigs. As such, it’s not practical for one-offs or small series. But the Swiss manufacturing consultancy Designtoproduction has developed an ingeniously simple new method of fabricating curved panels. Called ZipShape, it’s a system for creating two panels with interlocking teeth (similar to a zipper) that join only when bent to a predefined curve. In the case of a chair, for example, a furniture designer would establish a curve using CAD software. The ZipShape computer script then determines the geometry for the teeth and creates the necessary machine code to mill that pattern. Finally, the wooden panels are hand-bent and glued ­together.

Earlier this year ZipShape won the prestigious iF Material Award and a silver M Technology Award from the International Forum Design Hannover. “It is tantamount to developing a new material,” the jury of the latter wrote. “It opens up countless opportunities to create something completely new.” Practically speaking, however, ZipShape is still very much a research project. Christoph Schindler, an architect and one of Designtoproduction’s three founders, says the company is currently not prepared to accept commissions for individual ­pieces—although they are in contact with companies about a larger project. “We’re happy to show that by combining information and material processing it’s possible to develop new constructions,” he says.

Twin panels that interlock when bent to a predefined curvature

Although it would work with any easy-to-bend material, ZipShape is particularly well suited to natural and com­posite woods.

Small-series or one-off furniture designs and custom interior panels

Seestrasse 78
8703 Erlenbach/Zurich, Switzerland
(41) 44-914-7490

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