Designer Roos Meerman focuses on researching materials and forms, and relates this to current developments in technology. In her lab she makes machines to investigate how she can develop production methods that are controlled by natural phenomena. Her Aera Fabrica project won the 2014 Hendrik Valk Prize, the New Material Fellow 2014, and the Gelderland Design + Innovation Prize. The New Material Award included a fellowship at Het Nieuwe Instituut.
Her research starts with all sorts of tests on materials: immersing, heating, melting, stretching, breaking and freezing. In this way she transforms the properties and natural tendencies of a material to adopt a particular shape. Her aim is to control a material in such a way that it retains its freedom of movement, so that a unique result is always obtained.
The start of her fellowship was marked by a one-month period (March 2015) in which Roos Meerman continued her Aera Fabrica research in a temporary open lab. During her research she also spoke to a broad network of designers, experts on materials and techniques, researchers and representatives from industry. The research process was shared online and offline. During this month, Roos made use of printers that were provided by Ultimaker.
With her Aera Fabrica project, Roos Meerman draws on her fascination for the machine to explore hidden qualities of the 3D printer. She set out to discover the tactile and organic qualities of the impersonal 3D printing technique, where control plays a key role and where you always recognize the result because of its computer aesthetic.
Within Aera Fabrica, Roos Meerman developed a technique that combines blow-moulding, glass-blowing and 3D printing. In this case, the final phase of 3D printing forms the start of a new product in which:
- the 3D printing technique can be used more efficiently because larger objects with thinner walls that cannot be printed can be blown
- a new aesthetic for plastics emerges, facilitating a high degree of transparency and giving the plastic a glass-like quality
- no mould is needed to blow a shape, because the shape can be programmed in advance in a 3D drawing and can be determined by means of differences in wall thickness and partitions.
Roos Meerman: 'I see Het Nieuwe Instituut as an open institute where knowledge and skills come together. I relocated my Aera Fabrica laboratory to this interesting venue for one month. Opening the lab to visitors from both the design and architecture worlds, people interested in concepts as well as in materials and techniques, meant that my research could be interpreted from various perspectives. I invited designers such as Jesse Howard and Karin Vlug here, and also experts in materials and technology such as Ed van Hinte and Niels Flach. I used this period as the start of my investigation into the development of the technique. I did this by researching various aspects: how to control the inflating process, how to control the shape, how to scale up the technology, the software I want to develop, the material.’
Jesse Howard is one of the designers who spent a number of days carrying out research. He is a product designer who thinks about the implications of 3D printing for makers, users and designers. Others who came included Laura Duncker, graduate in industrial design from Eindhoven, and Karin Vlug, graduate in fashion design from ArtEZ and the person behind the Kiem project. They are investigating whether it is possible to make clothing without patterns, in other words without stitching. In the Aera Fabrica lab they studied how they could use the technology to make a suitable mould that could inflated a number of times, in a different size every time. In addition, Roos worked with DUS Architects to increase the scale of the technology and to see if it was possible make lightweight construction materials, or even an inflatable house.
After the Fellowship: ‘Researcher or designer?’
Roos Meerman: ‘How do I continue to spend as much time as possible as a designer doing what I enjoy doing most: research. During the development of the Aera Fabrica project, answering this question was essential in order to know where I want to go with these projects. Do I want to search for a technical, industrial application, or an artistic application in the form of products or installations? Or is the research itself a conclusion for me? Besides technical research, I used the fellowship to establish contacts and search for a profitable design method.’
‘It’s clear to me that my strength and fascination lie in experimenting. I search for something that I cannot define in advance. This approach of not knowing, and a strong desire to experiment, led me to interesting results that I could never have imagined beforehand. By dipping, tearing, heating, stretching, burning or inflating the material in a vacuum, observing it carefully and analysing it, you learn about the very essence of the material, and then you are able to shape it the way you want.’
Because Roos Meerman sees her work as a link between science and technology, she tested her findings by speaking to scientists and technicians. That brought her into contact with the Fluids Lab in Enschede: ‘After a guided tour of the laboratory, I presented my experiments to the PhD students in the department. As I was at that moment busy letting material congeal or freeze into a certain shape, I had plenty of questions about the properties of materials. I showed them ‘Momentum, temporary jewels’, a film I made about the beauty of how various liquids flow.
'I asked them about the physics behind various processes and how it was that certain patterns emerged in my tests. What I didn’t expect was that they countered with the same question and were very surprised. “How did you achieve that?" I started to experiment with tin and discovered that when you throw hot tin into ice-cold water, an explosion occurs, the outcome of which is a very fine tree structure. The department was really surprised about this and started a study to find out how this explosion occurs. For me, this contact with the Fluids Lab illustrates my role and strength as a designer.’
‘In the immediate future I plan to continue the project with new steps in various directions. I’m going to work with fashion designer Karin Vlug on a project called KIEM, in which textiles can be made without sewing and without patterns. What’s needed for this is a mould into which textile can be sprayed. The basis I’m using is the Aera Fabrica technique. I’m also in contact with an innovation department in the health sector, and I’m taking steps to explore ways to scale up the technique. Another result is a collaboration with Better Future Factory, in which we’re studying the commercial applications of the technique, with an as yet unknown property of PLA that I discovered in March in my Open Lab. I hope to be able to tell you more about these projects very soon.'
'For me, the process behind Aera Fabrica is an example for other projects. It’s a difficult process, which I’m trying to figure out at the moment by means of trial and error. I try to seize every possibility to find new ways of dealing with projects. As I research, I’m discovering how I can make my ‘laboratory’ a functioning design studio.
Visit the website of Roos Meerman