At the ETH Zurich (the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Zurich), Oskar Zieta and Philipp Dohmen inflate sheet metal to make furniture and entire bridges.
Designers, architects, and engineers have repeatedly attempted to stabilize sheet metal. Corrugated sheet metal is one possibility; however, one can also make this thin and unstable material robust by means of folds and puncturing. Oskar Zieta and Philipp Dohmen inflate sheet metal to make furniture and entire bridges at the ETH Zurich.
Not everything that is filled with air is elastic. But there is something that is flexible and economical, lightweight and stable all at the same time: it is called FiDU. The flowing folds and curves so familiar to the eye that clearly bring malleable plastics to mind have actually been transferred to metal. Oskar Zieta’s first piece of furniture evokes a smile from many because their visually suggested expectation is being played with: what seems to have been inflated … is really made of solid metal … and it has actually been inflated! Among other things, the simultaneous presence of opposites – unstable-stable, soft-hard – creates a stir among the viewers. Zieta proclaims solemnly, ‘The stool is the manifesto of our technology.’
It all began eight years ago as an in-depth, systematic examination of all the known stabilizing processes for sheet metal. But in the end, the decisive idea of stabilizing the sheet metal with air came in an intuitive, playfully experimental way. And so the PLOPP stool, which has meanwhile become well known, came into existence. Thanks to its unusual appearance, combined with an unexpected stability of more than 2 tonnes, the stool has been able to enjoy quite some celebrity in design circles. After its creation, a seminar week entitled ‘Inflated Designers’ was also held. Together with architecture students at the ETH Zurich, a whole series of classic chairs out of sheet metal by such diverse designers as Ron Arad, Jasper Morrison, Charles Eames, Max Bill, and Gerrit Rietveld were reproduced and blown up into caricatures of themselves. This experience was, however, only one intermediate, if important, stop along the already 10-year-long road to the progressive development of a pioneering technology for stabilizing sheet metal: ‘Freier Innen Druck Umformung’ [free inner pressure forming], known by the acronym FiDU.