Architecture to Furniture

Winter School 2017
Instructor: Hans Christian Wilhelm
6 March 2018

The Winter School course explored designs for lightweight furniture-structures and digital fabrication techniques. It aimed to produce furniture prototypes in a limited time of 12 days with digital fabrication methods of laser cutting and CNC and a defined primary material – plywood.

The course began with understanding and appreciating digitally fabricated furniture pieces through images. A reverse design exercise followed wherein pictures of fragmented parts of designed furniture pieces were given on a sheet of paper and in groups of two, students worked backwards to understand and make complete drawings and models. This helped them gain a deeper understanding of the structure and the process of assembling. Each of these designs worked on a structural aspect of architecture such as tension, gravity, elasticity, bending stress etc. Moving ahead on those lines, students had to come up with their own designs, keeping in mind the given material palette.

Hans Christian Wilhelm, who was at CEPT to conduct this Winter School course in Dec 2017, has for several years worked in renowned international firms such as Antonio Citterio (Milan) and Foster+Partners (London). From 2009-16 he was lecturing and researching on building envelopes at TU Munich and SoA Bremen, alongside with running a practice for architecture and design. In 2017 he joined Victoria University of Wellington as a Senior Lecturer. 

Reverse Design Exercises


A foundation principle both in architecture and in furniture design is transforming linear and/or 2-D elements into 3-D structures and objects.

More recently, digital design tools and CNC fabrication techniques have resulted in changing design to manufacture para-digms. This has allowed for small scale constructions showing complex geometries driven by, e.g. biomimicry or structural form-finding principles. 

This course bridges the gap between large-scale pre-fab production and sculptural one-off pieces by integrating structural principles from building constructions & criteria driven by CNC manufacturing techniques for furniture design.

Furniture pieces were developed from 3 gauges of plywood sheets, which were used according to their respective structural properties, mainly for elastic pre-stress/stability, compressive or tensile stress and bending stress. This is a strategy for reducing material weight and gauges, supporting them again with CNC routing and laser technology which is usually better to use with smaller material gauges/thicknesses. In addition, strapping tools from packaging were explored, in order to introduce tensile elements for stabilizing the prototypes. An iterative design and prototyping process helped participants design, develop and make innovative furniture prototypes, by exploring CNC-fabrication tools and and the simplest material palette.

Student participants: Aathira Taburete, Bhagyasshree Ramakrishna, Charvi Patel, Dhruv Darshil, Nikita Narayan, Nirjari Upadhyay, Riya Shah, Sahana, Shail Sheth, Shaily Parikh, Shikha Mehta, Shobhit Mittal, Vaidehi Ghatwai