Designing the Machine

A material is nothing without a process. While the constituent formulation imbues the final product with fundamental properties, the bridge between material and function has a dramatic effect on its perception and use.
The characteristics of plastic, for example, vary dramatically depending on where and how the raw material is applied during the forming process. The same material can be used to create a bag, a solid container, or a woven textile. The difference between a disposable water bottle and carpeting is so distinct that one could not make the material connection without some foreknowledge of the manufacturing process of each.
The result of this material ecosystem is a scenario in which design and manufacturing must inform one another. This connection often moves so slowly in the building industry that it is difficult to perceive and very slow to adapt. Designers often must create their own tools to understand the full potential of a material application. Two recent examples are the Improvisation Machine by Annika Frye, and the Thread Wrapping Machine by Anton Alvarez.
The Improvisation Machine stemmed from a need to create spontaneous polymer-infused plaster products through a single process. The result is a device that utilizes gyroscope-like rotation driven by a power drill to dictate the filling patterns of a mold. Frye states,

“Improvisation can’t be repeated or planned – and therefore I can only try to design somehow the framework in which improvisation will eventually happen.”

The second project, the Thread Wrapping Machine, does just that. Using glue-soaked thread as a substitute for joinery, the machine rapidly binds furniture parts together using a pair of rotating spools.

Alvarez explains, “I have full control over the development of the machine…I can freely experiment and develop it according to what I discover are my needs in this new craft.”
While innovative and adaptable, processes such as these merely scratch the surface of what industry can produce in terms of refinement, research, and economies of scale. It poses an uncomfortable dilemma. There is so much capital and development invested in old means of manufacture. How do we introduce the nimble and adaptable into the slow-turning ship of industry? How will we force better, more environmental materials into such rigidly established systems?


“Improvisation Machine by Annika Frye.” Dezeen Magazine. 31 Oct. 2012. Web. 02 Nov. 2012. <;.

“The Thread Wrapping Machine by Anton Alvarez.” Dezeen Magazine. 30 Oct. 2012. Web. 02 Nov. 2012. <;.


3 responses to “Designing the Machine

  1. Pingback: Material Substance: When Material and Mechanism are One | ArchDaily·

  2. Pingback: Material Substance: When Material and Mechanism are One | Steal Mag·

  3. Pingback: Material Substance: When Material and Mechanism are One | Style of Design·

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