Research project, ECAL 2021


Furniture under pressure: The potential of shape memory materials in furniture design

In response to the climatic, technical and aesthetic challenges posed in the field of industrial design by the transportation of goods, the Furniture under pressure project exhaustively investigates the possibilities of flat-packing offered by materials capable of occupying a fraction of their volume and then reconfiguring themselves in one piece, without mechanical assembly. This research-creation focuses on a specific case study, the chair.

Over the last decade, the rapid development of new communication technologies has brought consumers and sellers much closer together. Physical sales outlets are constantly decreasing while online sales are increasing. Although still relatively unaffected by this change, furniture sales are no exception.

In view of this development, thinking in terms of objects occupying as little space as possible for a time – known as flat-packing or flat-shipping – is of interest in terms of logistics and transport.

By favouring an empirical approach to design research, focused on the use of the intrinsic properties of innovative materials rather than on the elaboration of complex mechanisms or assemblies, Furniture under Pressure aims to bring to light a type of solution that is radically different from the DIY model of furniture, exemplified by Ikea.

Indeed, the aim is to experimentally evaluate the opportunities offered by "smart" materials capable of reconfiguring themselves, under certain conditions, into a state occupying a fraction of their initial volume, and then recovering it, whether due to their natural compressibility (sponges, synthetic foams, rubber), their shape memory properties (metal alloys, polymers) or their ability to fold, whether naturally (fabric, paper) or through engineering work (folding, CNC cutting and milling, 3D printing).

Inspired by Gaetano Pesce’s famous Up5 armchair, the aim of the Furniture under Pressure project is to identify and select a large number of materials with potential for producing a seat that can be transported in a small volume and return to its original shape once unpacked.

More advanced and concrete exploration of the characteristics and possibilities of these materials will lead to the identification of at least five concrete candidates for real implementable production, from which prototype seats will be developed and their compression, packaging and expansion tested and documented. The prototypes will have to meet a specific objective: they will have to be able to be delivered in a standard Post Office box and installed in one piece without manual assembly of different parts. At the same time, the knowledge gathered will be shared through an online catalogue presenting the materials studied and their properties, as well as the results of the tests carried out. The inventory will constitute a virtual material library for use by designers.

Main applicant

ECAL/University of Art and Design Lausanne
Camille Blin (project leader)

Research team
Christophe Guberan (researcher) 
Anniina Koivu (researcher)
Julie Richoz (designer-researcher)
Anthony Guex (designer-researcher)
Sebastian Wrong (designer-researcher)
Florian Fischbacher (head of communication)
Frederik Mahler-Andersen (graphic designer)
Younès Klouche (photographer/videographer)
Margherita Banchi (research assistant) 

Lecturers and researchers
Jamie Paik 
Mariana Popescu
Skylar Tibbits

1st-year MA students in Product Design, ECAL, class of 2020-2021

February 2021- November 2022 

Supported by
ECAL/University of Art and Design Lausanne
Strategic Funds HES-SO (RCDAV)

Following a week-long research workshop, a hundred or so “smart” materials were moved and classified according to different criteria 
© ECAL / Jimmy Rachez

Some "smart" materials find their application in the sketches of a chair
© ECAL / Margherita Banchi