Front, a new Swedish design collective, uses nature and technology to break new ground

Some companies innovate using cutting-edge technologies; some innovate using animals, bugs, and explosions. That’s Front, the four women (left to right: Sofia Lagerkvist, Charlotte von der Lancken, Anna Lindgren and Katja Sävström) of a Swedish design team who have collectively pushed the envelope of material innovation by making objects with help from nature (and a little assistance from technology). To achieve unique designs that no person had come up with before, Front has employed everything from gravity to animals. That sounds gory, but it’s not so bad. Think dog footprints left in snow that become vases; rats that chew holes in layers of wallpaper so patches of a more decorative layer beneath can be exposed as shown in Branch Table; and a fly’s path around a light (recorded via motion-capture) to form a lamp shade (lower right). And that’s just to start.

Indeed, Front’s forays into randomness don’t end with animals. They have also created a table that learns to walk, a vase frozen in multiple stages of falling and, perhaps, their most avant-garde object: a chair designed by setting off explosives in frozen ground, then making a cast of the resulting crater. (The chair is supposedly even comfortable.) Enchanted by chance, the Front team has let go of the control traditional designers hold so dear—a phenomenon that will become increasingly common in coming decades as genetic algorithms and other forms of computerized optimization become more prevalent.

Front already relies on high technology for much of its design, including 3-D scanning, pressure-forming, color-changing inks, and robotics. But instead of seeing technology as their modus operandi, it seems the group has turned technology into a tool for defeating design. In one recent project, Front used motion-capture technology to sketch with light pens, then rendered the results as functional furniture. Turning tableau vivant (the art of sketching) into tableau morte (the art of posing, or turning live subjects into art), the group seemed to be using and mocking technology at the same time. As they note on their Web site, “Even some of the most famous design objects are more reproduced as image or text than as functional objects.” Some design, they say, exists only with materials that do not yet exist. For Front, it seems the most interesting designs of all may be the ones that exist only in the mind. —Jeremy Faludi


“Even some of the most famous design objects are more reproduced as image or text than as functional objects.”