Amsterdam-based designer Jólan van der Wiel delights in calling his products ‘freakish and organic’ and he’s not wrong. They also beg the question, ‘How on earth did you do that?’ The answer, magnetism.
Essentially, for his stools, van der Wiel mixes a large amount of iron filings – around 6kg – with some liquid plastic, then uses magnets to draw up the legs. What’s left in the bowl forms the seat. The whole mixture sets within about five minutues and then you have a stool, which can cope with up to 200kg of weight and is surprisingly tactile too, with a vinyl-meets-rubber feel allied with its own unexpected weight.
The extraordinary shape of the stools and the method by which they are made all stem from van der Wiel’s exploration of the concept, ‘Nothing is something’ while studying at the Gerrit Rietveld Academie in Amsterdam (he graduated in 2011).
‘I wanted to demonstrate that we are able to utilise and exploit the things which already exist everywhere around us, and by doing so capture the invisible natural power in a material form. These are the kinds of techniques I can imagine exploiting further in other methods of production and in the quest for shapes within these processes.’
With his products called the Gravity Stool (there’s also a Gravity Bowl and a chandelier) van der Wiel’s intention was to try to set two of the Earth’s powerful unseen forces against each other – gravity and magnetism – to create a functional piece of furniture. There was no machine available that would let him do this, so he set about building his own Heath-Robinsonesque contraption, that looks essentially like a printing press with some enormous magnets attached to it.
‘My aim was to explore and visualise what was already there, but invisibly,’ says van der Wiel. ‘Gravity’s a force with a strong shaping effect and I intended to manipulate this using magnetism. As an invisible but omnipresent power, gravity offers the possibility of manifesting itself visually in the material. From the project’s beginning, I intended to take a step back and let the natural phenomenon itself determine the final shape of the object. My role as a designer should be nothing but a supporting one, determining only the conditions under which the object could take shape.’
Two of the key factors that van der Wiel controls are the material and the magnets (the number and power) he uses. Essentially, three sets of separate magnets means three legs. He mixes the iron and plastic together in a bowl then lowers the magnets towards the mixture before raising them up again pulling the legs up with it. The consistency of the mixture and especially the power of the magnets affect how long the legs can be.
‘The first step and the most important part is mixing the materials. If I don’t mix them well enough, the stool will become too hard or conversely won’t harden at all,’ explains van der Wiel. ‘After that, in the case of the stool, I determine the shape of the seat and the places where the legs should be. Then I put the material in the mould and after that the natural forces take over. It’s always a surprise – the shapes are totally down to the magnetic fields.’
Now van der Wiel has his eye on expanding the method using electromagnets, believing he could use those to create tables. To that end, he’s scouting around for sponsors to enable the process.
All images courtesy of Jólan van der Wiel