Situated to the north of the city of Juneau on Alaska's Alexander Archipelago, the Mendenhall Glacier is a 12-mile-long sheet of pack ice, stretching northeast from the pro-glacial Mendenhall Lake. It's an otherworldly site, a surface rippled like meringue, rendered in pastel blues, violets and lurid azure in the low northern light.
Inside the glacier, slow melting ice runs through hollow caves, giving them their idiosyncratic pock-marked appearance and incrementally revealing the remains of long-frozen forests. Every stage of the water cycle is visible; the freezing of liquid into snow, compacting into ice and eventually melting and evaporating into clouds, shaping the glacier's appearance in the process. It's a perennial, cyclical happening – a fascinating wonder of nature, certainly, but not an obvious inspiration for a furniture concept.
NOWlab – the Berlin-based interdisciplinary design studio founded by Jörg Petri and Daniel Büning in 2014 – begs to differ. The duo's 'Glacier' table/stool is created via an 'optimum material cycle' process – 3D printed, layer by layer – informed by the water cycle of the Mendenhall caves.
Produced in collaboration with the 3D printing company BigRep, the piece has a three-dimensional microstructure, based on the results of a digital simulation process that allowed the makers to detect the allocation of stresses within the geometry, and subsequently select an appropriate diameter and radii for the structure. The result: incredibly strong, but also lightweight designs. An example of how digital design processes can positively enhance the performance of objects while reducing waste.
In emulating the appearance of the cave ceilings, it's also aesthetically striking; both a practical piece of furniture and a neat example of organically-influenced digital sculpture. Further, it's totally biodegradable; a perfect realisation of NOWlab's three design principles: Nature (drawing on the 'intelligence, simplicity and beauty of nature's evolutionary procedures', Origin ('a starting point from where we develop further to arrive at the "best fit" solution for each individual assignment') and WOW ('a moment of fascination and awe that automatically sets you into a moment of 'Now'.