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Maker Profile: Alejandro Palandjoglou's Affordable CNC Chairs

By Bo Moore

What happens when you put traditional artists in a high-tech workshop with access to the latest in CNC equipment? That's one of the goals of Autodesk's Artist in Residence program, and this week, we're profiling a few of the makers given free rein in this awesome workspace.

What happens when you put traditional artists in a high-tech workshop with access to the latest in CNC equipment? That's one of the goals of Autodesk's Artist in Residence program, and this week, we're profiling a few of the makers given free rein in this awesome workspace.

Of all the makers I spoke to at Autodesk's Artist In Residence program, Alejandro Palandjoglou has approached his residency with the most practical, real-world applications in mind. A 31-year-old industrial designer from Buenos Aires, Argentina, Palandjoglou hoped to use his time in Autodesk's workshop to explore the artistic and personal side of his work.

Palandjoglou's background is in the furniture industry — he founded a furniture company in 2007 that continues to operate in Buenos Aires. He moved to the US in 2010 for a Masters in Product Design at Stanford University and has been living in the Bay Area working as an independent product designer ever since. But while he says he's happy doing contract work, Palandjoglou laments how there is little opportunity for art exploration while dealing with the pressures of deadlines and client expectations.

"I had a bunch of side projects I wanted to work on," Palandjoglou said, "and this seemed like a great place for that."

Most of what Palandjoglou produces professionally is high-end furniture, so one of his goals for the residency program was to make an affordable chair. But not just any chair; Palandjoglou wanted to design a chair that could be easily made — and customized — using a CNC Router.

"I was really intrigued by the ShopBot," Palandjoglou said, referring to one of the workshop's computer-controlled cutting machines. "There are a lot of people that have a CNC router, so I specifically designed for that machine, using that as a limitation."

Using Palandjoglou's design, three chairs can be cut from a single 4' x 8' sheet of plywood.

In other words, his plan was to design a chair — a 3D model file, really — that would be easily accessible via the Internet, allowing anyone with access to a CNC router to cut a new seating set for themselves. Using Palandjoglou's design, three chairs can be cut from a single 4' x 8' sheet of plywood. The whole process — both cutting and assembly — takes less than two hours.

Now, when Palandjoglou says that a lot of people have access to a CNC router, that's speaking relatively, but considering the technology has been widely available for several decades longer than the burgeoning accessibility of 3D printers (not to mention a price tag in the tens- rather than the hundreds-of-thousands of dollars), he has a point. Considering that, Palandjoglou is most certainly not the first person to design a CNC chair, but he says that thus far he's been unimpressed with the available options.

"I wanted to bring in some design aesthetics," Palandjoglou said. "All of the ShopBot chairs that I've seen were kind of straight 90 degree angles, so with this I wanted to add more parts — more complexity."

He found that complexity in how pieces of cut plywood fit together to form a chair. To Palandjoglou, most CNC chairs look somewhat cheap because they leave the joinery visible — that is, the sections where a protruding part of one piece of wood fits into the hole of another (think "insert rod A into slot B"). Thanks to the AIR program, Palandjoglou was able to learn about the Shop Bot's different capabilities, namely the ability to cut pockets, letting him create a sleeker, more aesthetic chair.

"It took a while to design, but I'm happy with the results," Palandjoglou said. "It still needs a little work, but it's good enough for people now to take it to the next level."

By releasing the design files out to the internet, Palandjoglou hopes the chair will change and evolve, taking all manner of form as people add their own personal touches. For example: one person might want to raise the back, while another could lengthen the legs and turn it into a stool. "I think there's a lot of potential," Palandjoglou said. "It's not just about giving them the file, but incentivising people to customize the design."

Palandjoglou's other projects tap into everyday applications for 3D printing.

Another of Palandjoglou's projects draws on his background in Industrial Design. In working with architects, he says they often mention having to adapt their designs to the availability of different fixtures. Thus far, people are limited when designing their homes by what they can pick out of a catalog — "why not design it themselves?" he asks.

In response, Palandjoglou is creating a line of 3D-printable door handles, faucets, and other fixtures (even toys). Like the chair, he hopes the designs will evolve over time and, especially as desktop 3D printers become more and more accessible and ubiquitous, be able to provide a cheap and easy way to customize and truly personalize a home.