On (Design) Failure II

Almost exactly a year ago, I shared a story about failure in the shop. Perhaps, after 12 months of middling successes, I was due for another one. Unlike the previous failure, the Barrel Chair, this one works, in some sense of the word

Over the last few weeks at work, at the ReBuild Foundation, we've been in the middle of shuffling our studio and shop as leases change and new spaces come on line. As we palletized piles of material, we chewed through dozens of rolls of packing plastic -- a sort of industrial cling-wrap. It came on 3-1/4" diameter cardboard rolls. I found a few more tubes of a similar diameter in a dumpster in our building.

The raw materials.

I've messed around with tubes before -- and who hasn't? They are strong, free, and easily workable. One of my architectural heroes, Shigeru Ban, had built whole buildings from them. I have made a few projects out of architectural plotter tubes, none of which were terribly successful. In an attempt to redeem myself, suddenly surrounded by tubage, I started thinking . . .

Poppin' caps.
My original intention was to create a pure tension structure: a series of tubes threaded onto a strap, pulled into a "C" shape by the tightening said strap. I bought some webbing online, found some buckles in my toolbox, and built a simple jig for cutting slots into the tubes. A cradle of plywood and two spring clamps held the them in place while also providing a flat surface at the exact centerline of the tubes. I used a biscuit joiner, usually used for joining wood, to punch slots in each end of each tube.

I love a good jig. Hot damn.
Once I threaded the webbing through, and pulled it tight, nothing happened. The tubes were too roly-poly. Without anything firm to bear against, they wouldn't wedge against themselves, and so just sort of flopped and twisted into a vaguely organized pile.

I thought a few wedges might solve the problem. I cut a bunch of tiny triangles on the bandsaw and forced them between the tubes, so that when I tightened the straps, they would stay oriented to one another in an shapely fashion. Needless to say, that failed as well. Even gluing the wedges in place didn't help.

Wedges didn't want to stay put . . .

I found myself stumped. In my mind's eye, the tubes made a perfect bow, with the webbing as the string. After experimented, I had discovered that the tension I was applying was failing to work as I had hoped. So, I reversed it -- running the webbing down the back of the tubes, around a wooden frame.

I cut and made a frame out of some scrap OSB from some crates left in the hallway, then fit the tubes to it. The straps run along the frame, sucking the tubes down to the wood.

In some ways, this was a success. Everything stayed put. A whole chair of eleven tubes, two straps, and two chunks of wood. It was lightweight, flat-pack, with a relatively elegant resolution of competing physical forces, rendering a comfortable surface.

But it's ugly. It's raw and ungainly, like a knob-kneed newborn calf stumbling away from its mother. The structural system has potential. The jig is neat. The material is intriguing. But I haven't solved this.


It is actually really comfortable.

Bit low to the ground. 
As Ray Bradbury said, about writing: “Any man who keeps working is not a failure. He may not be a great writer, but if he applies the old-fashioned virtues of hard, constant labor, he'll eventually make some kind of career for himself as writer.” 

Tomorrow, next week, next month, it's back to the barricades. There is work to be done.

1 comment: