Carbon fibers, carbon for short, are the current star among high-tech materials. This industrial material, which we frequently encounter combined with something else, for example plastic, to make it stronger, has the appeal of technical lightness and panache like, a good century ago, the silvery gray lightweight metal aluminum. Just as the latter, with its minimal weight and malleability, became the ultimate material of technical progress and ultimately, from household appliances to the Dymaxion house, symbolized Modernism that had been spurred on almost ecstatically, it is now carbon that embodies all the attributes of the future and speed. It is treated as a "Formula 1 material". The body of the new Boeing 787, when it comes to market, will be made of carbon. The body of the Porsche Carrera GT is already made of this innovative material of the future, as is the streamlined roof of the BMW M3 Series.
Carbon materials primarily unite two properties. They are sensationally light and unimaginably stable. This makes them the perfect material for automobile construction and space and air travel, as well as for motorbike helmets, tennis rackets, speed skates, racing sails and bicycle frames, which you could lift up with your little finger. In product design, carbon, with its uncanny abilities, is only at the beginning of a brilliant career, although the material is essentially still too expensive for larger quantities and it seems its sustainable disposal has not yet been fully clarified either. The first product innovations made of carbon fibers are already on the market however, and their number is set to grow soon.
John Barnard und Terence Woodgate have ingeniously formed the qualities of this industrial material with their beautiful table "Surface Table". Barnard is already well known as an industrial designer, while Woodgate has made a name for himself as a developer and designer of "Formula 1" racing cars: both together they seem an ideal combination to design an everyday object using the high-tech material. Their design for the English company Established & Sons was presented at this year's Milan Furniture Fair. The carbon table is three meters long and its form cuts a weightless line of sight in the space. The tabletop is just two millimeters thick and is thus, so the designers say, about five times thinner than similar-sized table constructions. Nonetheless the table, which is only produced on order, seems anything but fragile and delicate. The high-tech tabletop is available in "walnut veneer" or, even better, "unidirectional carbon fibre finish".
With its trailblazing image, carbon has already generated an aesthetic quality all of its own. Admirers want the carbon surface, with its characteristic, meshed web structure, to also be pure and visible and not painted, covered up and treated, thank you very much. We recall the "DAR" (Dining Armchair Rod) by Charles and Ray Eames, made of fiberglass-reinforced polyester. In this product design icon, which is a real heavyweight compared to a carbon chair, the formal innovation was accompanied back then by the fiberglass material left bare and "natural", so to speak, a daring industrial aura, which seemed virtually revolutionary surrounded by familiar materials such as wood and steel tubing. Today, when anything is actually possible and as such nothing is remarkable anymore, it is carbon that is succeeding in making an aesthetic transfer such as this once again.
The two designers Bertjan Pot and Marcel Wanders were probably also thinking of the "DAR" when designing their chair. The "Carbon Chair" designed for the Dutch company Moooi, Marcel Wanders' own brand, with its base and the ergonomic seat, almost seems like a tribute to Charles Eames' fiberglass chair of 1948. Here however, the material is not shaped with futuristic high-tech panache, but rather as a break with the expected. The seat is plaited so wildly using carbon fibers, as thin as wool, as though this artfully chaotic web technique transports the basket-like objects of Egon Eiermann into the next Modern age. The designers were interested in combining high tech and skilled craftwork, so they say. And aesthetically, they succeeded superbly. When we look at its dull non-color, the matt jet black of the chair reminds us of good old wood charcoal.
Carbon, still courted at present like a rare diamond among industrial materials, inspired designer Konstantin Grcic to produce a "Limited Edition". The edition of his chaise-longue, called "Karbon", is limited to 12, plus two prototypes. This graceful design, represented by the Parisian Galerie Kreo, also brings the advantages of the material into an extraordinarily dynamic form. The hammock-like couch curves as softly as an engine hood and is so gracefully angular it looks as though it was drawn in the space like a line drawing as someone walked by. Even now these first "avant-garde" objects reveal the creative innovations carbon can inspire, and what this material can make possible in product design in terms of novel forms and constructions. We can look forward to the next spectacular designs. The potential, at least, is already in the start boxes.