A sturdy featherweight table? Sounds... contrary to reason. But this contradiction was the very impetus for the design. Created for a research center that’s pushing the boundaries of design and manufacturing using technology and science, the designers--AIRLab, in collaboration with DManD-- sought to dematerialise the typical structure of a table, creating a sense of instability with the visual counterpoint of a solid surface.
From the architects. AIRTable was designed as a hot desk by, a research lab in SUTD. The form of the large table is a chamfered, 3 meter-long equilateral triangle. The large surface is supported by a very thin steel structure, intended to enhance the effect of a weightlessness. The thin and dense web supporting the tabletop flows into the three slender legs, each touching the ground on a point the size of a five cents coin. The stability and apparent lightness of the large structure was achieved through a system 306 round, thin hollow stainless-steel bars connected by 84 3D-printed metal nodes. The thin (6 millimeter) diameter bars are screwed into the palm-sized metal nodes, forming an intricate system of tetrahedrons. This gives incredible strength to the structure despite the delicate size of its individual elements.
Assembling the table was a precise operation. The end of each bar and the corresponding tip of each node is threaded. The assembly strategy began from the center of the table and radiated outwards, one bar at a time, towards each leg of the table.
The inherent stiffness of the growing connected geometries made it easier to propagate the connections in a single direction than to join two completed parts of the system together. To attain the perfect fit that the whole system was designed for, each bar had to be calibrated carefully as they needed to rotate into two nodes simultaneously. Patience and attention to detail were key ingredients in the assembly of the table.
The semi-matte-black slender legs contrast with the glossy white table top, creating the illusion of a featherlight structure, while providing the strength and rigidity demanded of a working table. Structural simulations during the design phase secured the stability of the long and slender structure with very thin elements.
Overall, the AIRTable proposes a daring expression for the familiar table type and, as an illustration of an adaptable furniture system, it unlocks the possibility of other furniture designs based on the same system.
The execution of this ambitious concept required a meticulous structural design and its concealed connection details to achieve a simple and elegant appearance with high performance.
Using 3D structural analysis software, the table structure went through multiple iterations, converging in a design that achieves adequate strength with minimum material. AIRTable showcases how such computational modelling can be used as design tool to simultaneously foster creativity and pragmatism.
AIRTable is conceived as an experimental project with the aim of advancing design and technology. The project takes full advantage of advanced metal printing technology in a furniture system that can be customized for multiple applications.
As first of its kind, it fosters Singapore’s design and innovation edge. In addition, the project demonstrates a design philosophy that engages with material economy through design, using tubes 6mm in diameter for a total table span of 3000mm. AIRTable’s apparent structural prowess pushes the limit of materials and therefore aims to inspire the curiosity and audacity to its users.
AIRLAB @SUTD (Singapore University of Technology and Design)
Lead: Carlos Banon and Felix Raspall
Research Team: Jenn Chong, Anna Toh Hui Ping, Ye Jia Jie, Jona Lim, Sourabh Maheshwari and Aurelia Chan Hui-En
Project Start: September 2017
Project Completion: November 2018
Research Funded by DmanD