features
#070 / 2005
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Mass to niche – truss collection

When American designer and educator Scott Klinker used the phrases "custom-mass production" and "moving from mass production toward niche production" to describe his current exhibition at Michigan's Cranbrook Art Museum, furniturelink had to investigate. As furniturelink readers know, the magazine has long been interested in the use of CNC technology by the smaller-producer to combat the economics of globalization.

Klinker's exhibition (on until April 2, 2006), titled "Crossing Flatland," features his furniture designs in the Truss Collection, which are manufactured by Context Furniture in Royal Oak, Michigan.

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Truss Collection: (left) dining table; (right) A-frame table and bench

From his office at the Cranbrook Academy of Art, where he is designer-in-residence and head of the 3D Design Department, Klinker explained how his designs evolved. "I wanted to design something that was limited to CNC manufacturing . . . I was trying for a CNC aesthetic. The production tools I was considering - three-axis routers - are good for cutting shapes or patterns out of a flat sheet, in this case plywood."

About his alignment with Context Furniture, he said, "I developed the first part of the collection on my own and had prototyped the first piece and was having some problems. So I invited them [Context Furniture] to my studio, and when they looked at it they said, 'Wow! This is great. Why don't we get together and do something with this?'"

Klinker continued, "The machine we are using - C. R. Onsrud three-axis router - will cut the outside contours but will also go back and mill pockets for the assembly [RTA] hardware [metal keyhole slot type of fitting that makes for easy assembly without tools]."

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Truss Collection: (left) bench; (right) side chairs

The flat-pack Truss Collection will be launched officially in May 2006 at New York's ICFF (International Contemporary Furniture Fair). Made from Baltic birch plywood, with a fused surface/laminate process developed by Context, many pieces are modular, which allows them to be "chained" together to form various systems such as long benches, tables, etc..

Asked how he, as a designer, sees the future of furniture design in the United States, Klinker replied, "My big concern is, as all the factories move to China, it is going to be Chinese designers who have proximity to the factory, and therefore they are the ones who are going to be able to innovate more easily."

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Truss Collection: children's table and chairs

When asked to comment as an educator, he said, "I think the main point is that students still have to be trained in making things; they just can't make images, because a computer rendering has nothing to do with gravity or structure. I think these are fantastic tools [3-D modelling computers], but you have to understand their proper place in the hierarchy of the [design] process. I think the traditional skills of woodworking and metalworking are as important as ever."

As recorded in past issues, furniturelink would have to agree. And in future issues, furniturelink will continue to promote innovative designers working with CNC production.

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© furniturelink 2005 (text) images © Scott Klinker