Carbon Fiber on the Homefront
There are many good reasons for using composites, although in the architectural sphere, the high strength-to-weight ratio is one of the biggest. In this regard, glass fiber is good, but carbon fiber is great. The single factor restricting more widespread use of carbon fiber – in architecture and elsewhere – is unquestionably cost. The stuff is really expensive.
Because of this, much of the development of carbon fiber applications is happening in industries where exotic material cost is not that big a deal. In aerospace, for example, the savings gained from using the lightweight, strong material simply dwarf the upfront material cost. Carbon fiber is figuring more into the engineering of high-end cars, too, because high cost is already a given, and the performance edge is something people can be induced to pay for.
In architecture, the size of the elements, and the relatively smaller savings that can be reaped by using a lightweight, strong material make carbon fiber prohibitively expensive for anything but well-funded experimentation.
However, there is another reason to use carbon fiber that is emerging in terms of décor and furniture: it looks cool.
Designer furniture made wholly or partially from carbon fiber composite blossoming. A wide variety of objects are being offered, some of which hardly need the strength-to-weight ratio of carbon fiber, but which take advantage of the formability of composites and, more importantly, feature the carbon-fiber look. In spite of its expense.
Or possibly, because of its expense. Perhaps part of its appeal is its high cost: every visitor to your home or office knows it’s a high ticket item the moment they look at it.
Browse the display at carbonfiberhome.com and there is a remarkable range of items from chopsticks up to chairs and tables. Their rather clever motto, “Carbon fiber is the new black,” is convincing proof that the carbon fiber look has become the equivalent of a designer logo, a snob-appeal beacon.
There are also many innovative uses of the material, too, which do leverage its strength even in thin sheets. Marcel Wanders’ Balloon Chair has carbon fiber fabric tubes that were formed around party balloons. Kris Lamba’s RV1 chair is formed from a single, continuous carbon fiber sheet, and boasts multiple seating positions. Thomas Feichtner’s limited edition Carbon Chair vaguely recalls the molded plywood chairs of Charles Eames, but with a decidedly modern angle.
In this realm, the richness of the material, the highly prized and highly priced concept, and often the limited availability are all part of the value. The impression of luxury is one of the performance aspects of the product. Despite all the experts who say that the application of carbon fiber is restrained by its high cost, this trend of high end furniture is pushing forward the acceptance of carbon fiber in the world of architecture and design.
Images sourced as noted.