Two years ago, when the engineers at the German chemicals company BASF invited the designer Werner Aisslinger to work with some new materials they’d developed, they didn’t think that he would choose to pair a water-based binder called Acrodur with hemp fibers. But Aisslinger was convinced of his choice. “You don’t think it is that exciting,” he told them. “But as an outside eye, I see it as the most important new material here.”
The product that Aisslinger finally created out of the hemp-based composite vindicates his choice. Displayed at the exhibition Poetry Happens during this year’s Milan Furniture Fair, the Hemp Chair is a lightweight seat with several interesting properties. “At a wall thickness of five millimeters,” Aisslinger explains, “it is as strong and durable as fiberglass.” But unlike fiberglass, it releases no harmful chemical fumes during the manufacturing process, only water. The material, which is 70 percent natural fiber, comes in square sheets that can be layered and easily molded under heat and pressure.
The form of the chair is a natural extension of the material’s properties. A continuous surface required the least manipulation and was the easiest to manufacture. But it also puts the Hemp Chair in the tradition of the monobloc—a chair type that came out of the earliest attempts by designers like Eero Saarinen, Charles Eames, and Verner Panton to create furniture out of plastic. Of course, the aesthetic is very different from that of the Tulip or Panton chair. “I like that it looks so rough,” Aisslinger says. “It’s not rich, it’s honest.”
Composition: The sheet material consists of more than 70 percent natural fibers, such as hemp and kenaf, bound by a water-based acrylic resin called Acrodur.
Properties: It can be easily molded at temperatures above 200 degrees Celsius, and releases no toxins. After curing, the material is lightweight, durable, and very strong at a thickness of about five millimeters.
Applications: Aisslinger also displayed a modular wall system made out of the same material. Natural-fiber composites are already used in the automotive industry to make door linings, glove compartments, and rear shelves.