Yes No


FormNation’s series of ‘breeding chairs’ Chairgenics is on show at Out of Hand, Materializing the Postdigital at New York’s MAD Museum. 

By Katie Dominy / 27-02-2014

Founder and lead designer of FormNation Jan Habrake has been inspired by Darwin’s theory of evolution to ‘breed’ the genetically perfect chair using 3D modelling software. 

Around ten iconic chairs were chosen for the experiment, such as the Panton Chair, Eames Plastic Shell Chair and Arne Jacobsen Series 7, 3107. These chairs were then ascribed genetic values between one and ten in the categories of ergonomics, durability, construction and costs. 

These elements were simple to calculate compared to the aesthetic values. Jan Habrake explains: “The aesthetics values were determined by Internet search popularity, using the search engines Google and Yahoo. Simply by entering the chair name in brackets and looking at the direct number of hits. For example, (Panton chair) returned 11.950 results. To check we were finding the right chair, we looked at the first page of the found images to find out what percentage of the images were of the correct chair. In the case of the Panton chair, 25 out of 39 images were correct. For Google this would mean an end result of 25/39  - so the 11.950 reduces down to a value of 7660. I then compared the ratings of all of the chairs with each other.”

Using rapid prototyping software to emulate the digital breeding, FormNation worked with 3D design software company Uformia and morphing specialist Mathieu Sanchez to create this perfect specimen, tweaking the Uformia software to “see shapes and designs that we would have never been able to dream up ourselves.”

And which part of the chair did you find changed the most? And was the most versatile?

“The legs are probably the part of the chair that evolved the most as we used many different types of chairs for the project - four legged chairs, S curved chairs and even a one-legged chair. However, the most interesting change I found was the difference in structure between a metal mesh seat/back versus a wooden seat/back and an upholstered seat/back.”

Habrake’s team also had to deal with unexpected results, especially when wide ranges in his chosen values caused the chairs to have disproportionate elements, for example the backrest of some chairs disappeared while the seat remained. There was also a tendency for the chairs to become ‘obese’

“The obesity problem we encountered arose from the software we developed and used for breeding the chairs. The custom software was built from scratch, and the computer somehow fattened all of the elements of the chair. This had to do with the overall bounding box. Subsequent generations of chairs were dramatically improved by adding anatomical boundaries, allowing us to control the growth in each 'bodypart' and avoid inbreeding.”

What has been the reaction of the visitors to the MAD Museum exhibition? 

“All the visitors I’ve had a chance to speak with have been very positive about the exhibition. They’ve appreciated being able to understand the Chairgenics project through visual elements, with the design process being very clearly presented without a lot of technical jargon about 3D and software printing.”

Chairgenics is on show at Out of Hand, Materializing the Postdigital, MAD Museum New York until 6 July 2014.