On this week’s DnA: The 3D printer comes into the home. Will Makerbot make us all industrial designers? Or is it an expensive means to make inferior products? With Raymond Roker, Jeff Mayberry, Andy Ogden and Carolyn, Summer and Tom. Also, the story behind LA design company Commune, with Roman Alonso, Steven Johanknecht, Pamela Shamshiri, Ramin Shamshiri and Mallery Roberts Morgan. And photographer Iwan Baan on flying high to capture The City and The Storm.
What Will We Do with 3D Printers?
The buzz at last week’s South by Southwest Interactive was about a new product that’s been building momentum and seems to have reached fever pitch, the desktop 3D printer. MakerBot, a technology startup that first introduced 3D printing—the automated process of making physical objects from digital models—to the commercial market at SXSW four years ago, was back this year to reveal a new prototype.
3D printing seems like the stuff of science fiction. It’s often pitched as a savior of democratic, DIY at-home design—the community of MakerBot enthusiasts has become known for their friendly hacker ethos, sharing digital models or “blueprints” for their designs. But the technology also gets hyped as a dystopian nightmare giving individuals a little too much creative control. Last year’s story of a Milwaukee hobbyist Michael Guslick using his MakerBot to 3D print what he described as a “functional” gun added a new dimension to the fervor and apprehension about the product (Guslick talked about his effort to 3D print a gun in this DnA.) But in reality the story of 3D printing, and the technology and machinery itself, is a little more complicated.
MakerBot’s new product, the Digitizer, is meant to complement the company’s existing desktop printer, the Replicator, by letting customers scan objects and feeding the resulting digital file to the printer for fabrication. The Replicator and Replicator 2 currently sell for in the $2-3ooo range so, if the new Digitizer falls in roughly the same price range, it will be well within reach of hobbyists and small business owners and removes the necessity to build your own digital blueprint from scratch.
One of the existing problems with 3D printers like MakerBot, however, is that the products they make are limited to super simplistic forms and can be functionally second-rate. So, does 3D printing technology promise us all the ability to become industrial designers, or it an expensive way to produce inferior products?
To find out more about this brave new world of consumer 3D printing, Frances and her daughter went to the West LA home of financier Jeff Mayberry and his two children, Carolyn and Tom to witness 3D printing on his newly purchased Makerbot Replicator 2.
Over the course of an afternoon, Jeff printed several bracelets already designed and made available by Makerbot, to the oohs and aahs of his appreciative audience. Depending on the complexity of the design, the printing process took from 12 to twenty minutes and wasn’t without a few hiccups; Jeff had to tweak the process several times, highlighting a few of the common criticisms of 3D technology. First off, the process isn’t quite as automated as people think it is. Jeff noted that, basically, 3D printing is a high-tech way of hand making things. And second, even the machinery intended for home use is a bit more technologically sophisticated than people think – it requires some know-how to understand how to use these things. And trouble-shooting is a necessary part of the process.
But there are other high-tech uses for 3D technology outside the hobby market – architecture firm Diller, Scofidio + Renfro have apparently been using a more complicated version of the printing process, called rapid prototyping, to test out their design for the new Broad Collection Museum in downtown LA.
But if architects and designers can use 3D printing to make their own designs, surely it’s only a matter of time before others are copying their famous products too, right? On the heels of design copyright issues like last month’s uproar over independent designer Doug Johnston’s artisanal baskets being copied by big box retailer Target, should designers be worried now about their products being replicated at home too?
Andy Ogden, the Chair of Industrial Design at the Art Center College of Design, says not yet. Speaking to Frances, Ogden says that “I used to work at Walt Disney Research and Development, and we couldn’t figure out how they would make anything more complicated than a toothbrush because it’s pretty hard.” He says that desktop 3D printing is currently only capable of making monolithic objects – objects made from just one material.
Ogden suggested that we were more likely to see new options for small-scale production for designers, rather than at-home reproduction. Comparing consumer ink jet printers to those used to print beautiful full-color books, Ogden thinks we might someday order a fully customizable product online from an independent designer, who would then custom print the product for every order. Since even the average toothbrush now comes in multiple colors, shapes and materials, don’t plan on making your own Philippe Starck toothbrush anytime soon.
Commune Tells its Story
Los Angeles has long been intensely stimulating for designers — fueled by a combination of relatively cheap working space, openness to diverse expression and ways of working, access to a base of craftspeople and manufacturers brought here by Hollywood and aerospace; and of course the sense of liberation embodied in its inside-outside living and its open, sunny skies. Even as LA gets more dense and, in some ways, more constrained, that sense of opportunity to create still pulses through region. But in an increasingly crowded community it can also be hard for emerging designers to get their voices heard.
Starting today, DnA is embarking on weekly coverage of LA designers, with the goal of doing for LA designers what KCRW’s music coverage does for indie musicians. We will hear from more established firms and “indie” start-ups, about who they are, what is the story behind their work, what are the challenges, and benefits, of working and making a business in LA. Their stories will be told by a cast of DnA DJs, LA-based design journalists who will scout the region and unearth design talent. We will run podcast interviews with the design firms, and some designers will also make available limited and special edition products to KCRW listeners via DnA Design Picks on the KCRW store.
To kick off the series, DnA took a closer look at a highly visible Los Angeles design firm whose intrigue also lies in the way their mark is somewhat invisible. The firm is Commune, they are a design collective – made up of four partners (Roman Alonso, Steven Johanknecht, Pamela Shamshiri, Ramin Shamshiri) who create interiors and brands for a range of clients that has gathered steam over their ten years since founding. Tnd they have a knack of creating spaces that feel as if they have been around for ever, while being completely current; among them Heath Ceramics in LA, Ammo restaurant on Highland Avenue, Farmshop in Brentwood, Mattison on Melrose Place and ACE Hotel in Palm Springs.They have a distinct look that lies in approach rather than in a signature style, about which design journalist Mallery Roberts Morgan, a guest on today’s show, says: “Their trademark style – if they have one – is bohemian chic – a carefully curated layering of materials, furniture, textiles, art- influenced by the aesthetics of Southern California art & design from the 60s and 70s. They draw on references as varied as fashion, music , art. . . and mix sleek modernist pieces with uniquely Californian textiles, ceramics of the 60s and 70s – rich colors, warm metals like brass, natural materials (wood, wool, ceramic) ethnic influences – African stool or woodwork from India or Asia.
According to Roberts Morgan, the French edition of Architectural Digest christened them the ‘Keepers of the Cool.’
For the partners behind Commune, two of whom come from production design and the other two from working in creative services at Barneys New York, every project is informed by a narrative. On today’s show, they explain what that means.
Flying High to Capture The City and The Storm
To conclude today’s show, DnA takes a visit to the burgeoning new Highland Corridor, a cluster of shops, restaurants, design stores and high profile art galleries that are transforming that strip, says guest Mallery Roberts Morgan. One of the current shows is a survey of the architectural and urban photography of Dutch photographer Iwan Baan, on display at Perry Rubenstein gallery. Known to date for striking images of avant-garde buildings set in their more rugged context of regular people and gritty surroundings, Baan made perhaps his most career-defining photograph when he happened to be in Manhattan when Hurricane Sandy hit. Having established a network of helicopter pilots in New York and cities around the world, he was able to charter a flight and get a vantage point on the city
On today’s show, he tells the story of capturing The City and The Storm.
The photo is on show along with other works by Iwan Baan at Perry Rubenstein at 1215 N. Highland Avenue.