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
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.