The original Industrial Revolution changed the world and ushered in the age of modernity. From its quiet beginnings in British cities like Manchester and Sheffield, industry based on coal, iron, and steel soon spread (and is still spreading) around the world. The furnaces and assembly lines of that period were based on the principle of mass production—the ability to design and manufacture components that were identical in every way. Despite early architectural attempts to fight against industrialization (the Arts and Crafts Movement) or to merge it with artisanship (Werkbund), designers soon learned to embrace its new technologies, as evidenced by modernists like Le Corbusier, the manifestos of the Italian Futurists, and the pedagogy of the Bauhaus.
Now, a new industrial revolution is afoot, this time based on the concept of mass customization rather than mass production, and once again, the design professions are at the forefront of applying new technologies in novel ways.
The ideas above are at the center of the Design Museum’s forthcoming exhibition The Future Is Here, an exploration of computer numerical controlled (CNC) manufacturing, digital design, and brand new fabrication techniques. Featured items include heavy machinery, children’s toys, and robots, all of which illustrate a change in the means of production.
Visitors will find a loom used by Lexus to weave carbon-fiber steering wheels and dashboards, 3D-printed jewelry and dolls, CNC-milled houses, and shoes that are individually customized to the wearer’s feet and style preferences. And then there are the machines themselves: Giant steel arms weld car parts together, while a CNC mill unfolds from the size of a suitcase. Portable 3D printers spit out prototypes as museum goers look on.
Above and below: WikiHouse by FabHub
The assembly of all of this technology is an attempt to prove that the era of mass production is over; instead of cookie-cutter houses and identical devices, digital design and fabrication allows us to tailor our objects for our own needs while maintaining, or even reducing, cost. The genius of The Future Is Here is that it involves visitors in the act of fabrication itself, demonstrating that technologies such as 3D printing or CNC milling lend themselves to DIY creativity. A factory within the exhibition will produce artifacts for visitors to play with or put together, showing the fabrication processes firsthand.
The Future Is Here: A New Industrial Revolution is at the Design Museum, London from July 24 to October 29.
Kuka Robots spot welding
Formlabs 3D Printed Bracelet (Nervous System)
Makidolls of Prince Harry and Prime Minister David Cameron
Above and below: Grow CNC Machine by Michael Warren Design (Images by Nicola Tree).