Functional science art is the best kind of science art.
Layering wood, concrete and glass to make contoured landscape furniture is a trend I can totally get behind.
The wood is harvested from the banks of the Nooksack River, sliced into planks so the raw edges create fanciful landscapes in table-format. I particularly like how the natural texture and curvature of the wood's unfinished edge evokes the roughness of a submarine canyon's walls. Blue glass finishes the effect, creating a smooth table that evokes dramatic topography without actually being irritating to practically use.
The pricetags make me wince, but are surprisingly reasonable for unique designer furniture constructed by an actual human using natural materials. The construction process is fascinating, too — while most of the tables have a few work-in-progress photographs, only the photoset for the River Longhorn Dining Table contains images from the raw wood through the intermediate design and construction sets through the final product.
The valley carved below the glass surface feels all the more empty; I'd have to restrain the urge to shout down an open end to test the acoustical properties for echoing reverberation.
The layers of plywood produce an interesting effect, perfectly horizontal bedding layers stacking up over geologic time. Although it does not appear that Bolster's work is for sale, I can imagine it could fill a particular geological niche within topographical tables if he squished a few fossils between the wooden beds, or by layering angular discontinuities for added stratigraphic complexity.
Christopher Duff is dreaming up a contoured seascape constructed of layered wood, glass, and Perspex. The Abyss Table is currently just a concept — the images are three-dimensional renderings, not photographs — but is available to purchase for the first 25 people who crave topographic relief in their coffee tables.
Taking the staggering depths of the last project and going even deeper, Snarkitecture has an variety of furniture that maintains a smooth top surface by flipping the topography upside-down. Intended for only the most pop-culture centric modern office spaces, the Slice ping pong table [above] converts into a conference table. Constructed of steel, rubber and Richlite, the table's dark, opaque material and smooth lines are the most modern-art take on topography I've found.
Although not grouped into a single collection, the designers have an entire range of icy topography furniture. The Wasserman Table is supposed to evoke glacial landscapes with an opaque undulating coffee table, but fails to match my memories of eery blue tint of packed ice and terrifying crevasses from the last time I worked an ice radar job. Float and Slab Table work far better as icebergs, a jagged bottom edge of impossible unbalance endangering oblivious toddlers, and Cast Light's embedded LED may finally capture the strange optics of ice.
Breaking into a broader geologic theme, I like Felt Light, a lamp of stacked matte wool nestling the light in a fuzzy cave. The Slip Bench is a rare piece of tectonic furniture, but is a bit too much form-over-function for me, sacrificing a substantial chunk of usable sitting area to emphasize a normal fault.
I like the simplicity of the project; the smooth lines keeps the spirit of caves even in its minimalism. While it's decidedly less evocative of accuracy than some of the other tables, the sleekness allows for a bit of geology while easily incorporated within a modern design aesthetic.
I can't find many details about Faithe Olson's topographic table beyond the photographs of a perfectly-contoured surface.
From the description of the type of materials she works with I think the table is cast rubber on a steel frame.
The bottom of the table certainly has a lot of relief, but I'm uncertain if the top surface is capped with glass or plastic, smooth with a great optical illusion, or actually equally as dynamic. If it's the last option, this would qualify as more form than function, but could make an excellent watertable for splashing about with toy boats.
This table is more art sculpture than designer furniture, prioritizing form over function with a totally unusable high-relief top surface. For bonus inconvenience and geekiness, the table also shakes!
Carved out of birch plywood with a CNC-router to match the topography of Vancouver's north shore, the table is wired to the internet. To incorporate the seismic instability of the region, the table is internet-enabled and embedded with electronics to quiver in response to Twitter and news stations report of local earthquakes.
Weirdly, topography is also the theme for this summer's urban art exhibit in Vancouver, with a wooden bench of layered contours modelled on a curving reef dominating the seasonal pedestrian mall at Robson Square.
Encased in a clear acrylic frame, the sculptures are functional side tables. They're even available in a variety of base shades to suit different colour palettes.
Ben Young's sculptures are more artistic than practical, but they fit the theme too well to ignore.
Young spends a lot of time at the beach looking for inspiration, and it shows in projects that alternate between strictly accurate representations of waves and more artistic simplifications that stay true to the fluid mechanics.
I particularly like that the jagged waves marking the tops of the layered glass sculptures are independent of the curved concrete topographies along the base. In the top sculpture, the light house is atop a sudden peak breaking through the waves while the most foreboding aspects of the jagged landscape are hidden from view. In the lower sculpture pair, the seafloor ripples are smoother representations of the surface waves, an accurate match to what you can find while investigating any sandy shore.
I can't exactly call the influx of topographic tables an entirely original trend, as I've previously highlighted the pioneering work of Henry Cadell way back in the 1800s. His table prioritized function over form, layering and squeezing deformable materials on his table to investigate the mechanics of mountain building. Alas, while his sketches are downright artistic, his furniture design seems entirely too pragmatic while simultaneously utterly unusable for anything other than scientific investigations.
Which ones are your favourites? Have you spotted other variations on the theme that I missed?
Inspired by a tip from Jennifer Ouellette/This Is Colossal. Images credited to the various designers. For more science-based design, consider a subduction desk, topography or maritime carpets, or this awesome time-warping patio.