Three designers experiment with polyurethane foam to create new, unexpected forms
by Jack Shaw
While the idea of elevating industrial materials to the level of high design isn't new, recent creative experiments with polyurethane foam have yielded work that feels undeniably fresh. Widely used in the furniture production process, polyurethane foam rarely constitutes a visible part of the final product. The material's amorphous nature and near instantaneous conversion from a liquid to a solid not only lend to its commercial application as insulation and interior support, but have also made it a favorite plaything for conceptual designers. These projects have yielded work of unconventionally beautiful and rare intellectual appeal.
Berlin based product designer Jerszy Seymour has developed a career-spanning relationship with the polyurethane foam material. He has created an entire visual language of drips and goo, which he calls Scum. From lamps to a 'house in a box' kit Seymour has used the foam for projects of every scale. Seymour's work has a humble honesty and a quality of being almost undesigned. His New Order Chair for Vitra Edition uses the foam to reconstruct a plastic garden chair into a design that is both experimental and elegant.
Like Seymour, Massimiliano Adami's work often incorporates found objects. In his Fossili Moderni series polyurethane foam is used to suspend common plastic containers and toys (of both children and adults) before being sliced into a desired form. The resulting magma of 21st century refuse is a surprising reinterpretation of everyday objects. There is a thoughtfulness to this immortalization of the everyday object, considering it could take up to 1000 years for the average PET bottle to degrade in a landfill questioning mass design and its consumption seems entirely appropriate.
The Swell Vase, by Brooklyn designer Chen Chen, achieves its alien appearance by incorporating the contradiction between pressure and constraint into the production process. Made by injecting the expanding polyurethane foam into a net bag the tension between the two materials dictates the vase's ultimate form. The work is made far more interesting by the idea of removing the designer's control, and elevating the role of materials in the design process.
Jerszy Seymour has worked with such companies as Magis, Vitra, Kreo, Moulinex, SFR and IDEE. Massimiliano Adami has created designs for Cappellini, Meritalia, and Fendi. Adami and Chen Chen both currently have work on display at Moss in SoHo, New York City.
Images of New Order Chair by Hans-Jörg Walter, all others by Juan Garcia Mosqueda.