Is the chip might­ier than the chisel?

With mi­crochips now ca­pa­ble of repli­cat­ing—and, in some cases, sur­pass­ing— the work of the hu­man hand, Ara­bella Youens asks lead­ing de­sign­ers for their views on the fu­ture of crafts­man­ship in Bri­tish fur­ni­ture-mak­ing

Country Life Every Week - - Contents -

Ara­bella Youens asks lead­ing de­sign­ers about the fu­ture of Bri­tish crafts­man­ship

AS a boy, Lord Snow­don re­mem­bers his fa­ther ask­ing his handy­man to make a lean-to shed in the gar­den of their coun­try house. ‘Jim made a beau­ti­ful struc­ture that was per­fectly sym­met­ri­cal, but my fa­ther asked him to take it down, have three glasses of whisky and start again.’ The re­sult, ev­ery­one in the fam­ily agreed, was much more at­trac­tive. ‘There’s an el­e­ment of hu­man­ity that jars with some­thing that is metic­u­lously straight: the mind wants to see im­per­fec­tion.’

Rus­sell Pinch, the Lon­don-based fur­ni­ture de­signer, agrees, ar­gu­ing that ab­so­lute per­fec­tion leads to ho­mogeni­sa­tion. ‘When that hap­pens, per­son­al­ity is erad­i­cated from the piece,’ he states.

How­ever, in­creas­ingly, so­phis­ti­cated CNC ma­chines (an archaic acro­nym for Com­puter Nu­mer­i­cal Con­trolled) and Com­puter Aided De­sign (CAD) are em­ployed to cre­ate com­plex joints and con­tours that would oth­er­wise con­sume hours of skilled man­ual labour and thus ren­der the fi­nal piece un­af­ford­able to all but a very few.

De­sign­ers are unan­i­mous in the view that, if the dis­tin­guish­ing char­ac­ter of Bri­tish fur­ni­ture is to be beau­ti­fully made, in­no­va­tive and eco­nom­i­cally vi­able, then craft and tech­nol­ogy must work in tan­dem; the hu­man hand is ca­pa­ble of things that com­put­ers never could be —and vice versa. No one would consider saw­ing down a tree with a hand­saw when ma­chines make for less waste and more pre­ci­sion, but, sim­i­larly, it is the hu­man hand that cru­cially en­sures that one piece isn’t the same as the next.

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