C.STEM 2008: Breeding Objects – Computational Design, from Digital Fabrication to Mass-Customization

0aarapapreprpioi.jpgSelf Replicating Machine, by Dr Adrian Bowyer and Ed Sells in lab

Good old Turin is currently hosting the third edition of C.STEM. The theme this year is Breeding Objects – Computational Design: from Digital Fabrication to Mass-Customization and while the spotlight is still on generative systems, it is, in many respects, very different from the first edition. This time, the main protagonists are designers, not artists.


Although, i have taken the habit of running swiftly in the opposite direction when i hear the word ‘design,’ i have to admit that the programme this year is remarkable. Especially because it brings that innovative focus i had hoped to see more widely explored in the schedule of the Torino World Design Capital. C.STEM showcases projects anticipating future developments in design process and technologies. What happens when domains such as design, creative coding and digital fabrication meet the new scenarios of mass-customization?

0aladiesss.jpgC.STEM conference on Sept. 20th: Where were the ladies?

The exhibition and conference explores the way design is currently re-considered and shaped through the lens of information society and, more generally, new technologies. The work of young designers today involves a crucial paradigm shift: not only do they use the digital tools provided to them but they also invent, modify and produce new instruments themselves.

0aanervsss.jpgDendrite by Nervous Systems (Jessica Eve Rosenkrantz and Jesse Louis-Rosenberg)

Another important characteristic of the new design production involves digital fabrication processes such as laser cutting and 3D printing (a few examples in the posts Rapid Products 1 and 2). The impact of digital fabrication is far from marginal: instead of churning out identical products, objects are created which, while they undeniably belong to the same family, are all different from each other. Beyond the creative process and fabrication, the digital tools and new design processes have also the potential to radically modify the marketing of design products and the way consumers engage with the creation of objects. Two projects presented in the exhibition, Nervous Systems and Fluid Forms (see below), have already been launched on the market and as such, exemplify new business possibilities.

C.STEM conference is over but you can still see the exhibition until September 27 inside an Ex Methodist Church. If i were you i’d run there, you don’t see a show like that every year in this region country.

Located in an ex-Methodist church in the center of Turin, the exhibition illustrates what is the state of the art of computational design through a series projects that range from everyday objects you can buy online to sweatshirts weaved with newsfeeds, and a 3D printing machine able to ‘prints’ most of its own components (not the original one but maybe even better, a version fatta in casa by ToDo design studio.)

The list of projects exhibited is online. Here’s just a selection:


Ebru Kurbak and Mahir Yavuz’ NewsKnitter project comments on the manipulation by the media in Turkey. Live data streams of information are used as an unpredictable base for pattern generation. Web-based information is either gathered from the Turkish daily political news or according to a theme that pervades global news. The data is analyzed, filtered and converted into a unique visual pattern for a knitted sweater. The system consists of two different types of software: one receives the content from live feeds while the other converts it into visual patterns, a fully computerized flat knitting machine produces the final output. The pieces of clothing are not for sale right now but the designers are working on that.

0aaradiolario.jpgRadiolaria by Nervous Systems

The jewelry designed by Jessica Rosenkrantz and Jesse Louis-Rosenberg of Nervous System, on the other hand, is up for grab. The design is both heavily tech-mediated and inspired by organic forms.

Using two custom-made computer applications –one mimics branching dendrites, and the other the movement of particles–the designers generate forms for bracelets, pendants, and earrings.

The Radiolaria line, for example, is named after the plant cells whose structure was a source of inspiration for Buckminster Fuller. Jewelry from the Dendrite collection takes its cue from the aggregate growth of coral. The Dendrite algorithm both controls the aggregation and allows consumers to participate in the design process

0aatissuesun.jpg1 of 1 studio tissue collection

Way more beautiful in real than on pictures, 1 of 1 design studio creates one-of-a-kind, made to order apparel. For The Tissue Collection, designer Cait Reas worked together with C.E.B. Reas. The artist generated the Tissue images by defining processes and translating them into images with code and software. Cait used a digital textile printing technique to apply the patterns to fabric.

0aacspacesd.jpgtheverymany contributed as consultants for the [C]space pavilion in London

In case you’d worried that this blog is turning into a geeky version of Harper’s Bazaar, i’ll have to mention that the best moment of C.STEM for me was to listen to Marc Fornes from theverymany. It’s the second time i attend one of his talks and i’m still not sure i understand most of what he says but his work is so awesome that it doesn’t really matter.


His presentation addressed failure. For example, he detailed how the Aperiodic_vertebrae structure that theverymany developed for Generator x – Beyond the Screen (a workshop and exhibition which highlighted the creative potential of digital fabrication and generative systems) in Berlin taught him that while computers facilitate many of the design processes much of the assembly still has to be done by hands. The Berlin version of the Aperiodic Tiling counted some 530 panels and nearly as many connecting components.

0aaloopopjpoj.jpgOne of the many options studied for R&Sie’s Loophole bridge

The core of theverymany approach is therefore to use computer to generate, not just many parts, but a logic between these parts. They applied the concept to the woven pedestrian bridge that Francois Roche from R&Sie is building on the boundaries of Poland and the Czech Republic.

My images from the event.

About the 2006 edition of C.STEM: C.STEM conference, Part 1 and Part 2.

Related entry: Generator x – Beyond the Screen, a workshop and exhibition which highlighted the creative potential of digital fabrication and generative systems.