It takes a robot to make 800-pound chairs that cost hundreds of thousands of dollars

Should you sit, or should you stare? When you encounter Wendell Castle’s furniture, the answer is both. Known as the “father of the art furniture movement,” the sculptor and designer makes art that’s also functional.

He currently has an exhibition at the Museum of Art & Design in New York paying tribute to some of his most historically significant pieces but made with his thoroughly modern techniques combining 3D scanning, 3D modeling, and computer-controlled milling, according to MAD.

All of Castle’s furniture starts out basic enough, with a sketch. Then he moves on to a foam scale model, which is put into the computer via a laser scanner. The computer prints out the layers, which Castle stacks on top of each other and glues together. Then the robot uses this as a “tool path,” so it has a guide to follow. The robot, named Mr. Chips, handles all the carving, but it doesn’t create the entire piece. There are still some handmade elements to the furniture, but the bot allows Castle’s designs to reach a whole new scale.

“It’s one of the largest robots [of its kind] in the world,” Castle tells Bloomberg Business. “It can reach 12 feet in any direction, which allows you to do very large things.”

The robot doesn’t speed up the process, though; it actually slows down the carving process. Castle only makes about 3o pieces of furniture per year, but they’re in demand and sell for between $75,000 and $315,000 at his Friedman Benda gallery. And when you buy a Wendell Castle piece, it’s pretty much yours forever.

“I wouldn’t even think of making stuff like this in the ’70s because it would have been ridiculous to make a chair that weighs 800 pounds because nobody could move it,” Castle tells Blouin Art Info. “But I don’t worry about that now because anybody who is going to buy this piece isn’t going to move it anyway.”


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