What at first glance looks like preparation for the most epic furniture-themed party ever—shiny, reflective chairs and tables resembling inflated Mylar balloons—is, in fact, Zieta Prozessdesign's FiDU collection, constructed entirely of steel. The series, which consists of chairs, stools, tables, accessories and artwork, first made its debut back in 2008, but the Poland and Switzerland–based studio only recently announced its latest addition to the collection, Tafla, a modular set of mirrors, as late-comers to the party.
The large, globular forms look right at home among the other wonky, warped furniture in the collection. Like those objects, the mirrors were made via Free Inner Pressure Deformation (FiDU), which involves inflating sealed pockets made of stainless steel. The process was developed by Zieta Prozessdesign's founder, Oskar Zieta, during his time studying the properties of metal at ETH Zurich.
For the FiDU collection, large sheets of stainless steel are first laser-cut into two-dimensional shapes. "For the production of the mirrors, we used high-gloss polished stainless steel," Zieta says. "Steel is the main material in which we work and on which the majority of our projects and the whole technology are based. [It] is a very good material for light and shadow manipulating, and in good hands can be perfect to achieve amazing effects."
The individual pieces are stacked together and laser welded along their edges to create fully sealed, flat forms. The pieces are then inflated using pressurized air pumped in through a valve, resulting in an internal pressure that fills the sealed pocket and causes the metal to morph and change shape as it moves to accommodate the new air. After being inflated, the pieces are high-gloss polished to achieve their final reflective gleam.
Zieta refers to the process as a "controlled loss of control." While the welded silhouettes give the designer an idea of what the end result will be, Zieta doesn't use a mold to create the objects, so each piece bends and expands differently, depending on the material's natural characteristics and grain. That variation, while now embraced, initially created a lot of frustration. "The most difficult part was the process of pumping and getting nice deformation touches, especially in the corners," Zieta says. "Finally, we managed to get deformation parameters in almost the same way, although it is always the minimum difference error—so every product is a little bit unique and one-of-a-kind." In the video below, Zieta likens the process to carving clay.
At the 2012 edition of the Paris trade show Maison & Objet, Zieta and his team demonstrated how a coat stand could be inflated at home using only a simple bicycle pump. While the FiDU collection itself requires no pumping by the end user, Zieta does believe that the technology could eventually be extended to at-home assembly, reducing shipping costs for an array of metal products that could be flat-packed and assembled upon delivery. Sounds like a party to us.
This was the latest installment of In the Details, our weekly deep-dive into the making of a new product or project. Last week: a terrifyingly cute area rug.
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Met Oscar at his early demo booth in Milan. Fantastic process.