Precedent Studies

4.500, FALL 2019


To learn how to construct a chair​ using Rhino by replicating a design classic. In my case, I chose the Shell Chair by Hans Wegner for its deceptive simplicity. Not only do several of the surfaces exhibit double curvature, but the geometry of the padding is uniquely moulded, making it the perfect practice field for making 3D models.


While I had substantial parametric design experience at the beginning of this course, I had not spent much time experimenting with Rhino's native user interface and had certainly never made something with the intent to 3D-print, or otherwise manufacture it. My learnings in this class, from workflow to material knowledge, have been foundational for much of my work since.​


While the design of the shell chair is simple at first blush, in fact it consists of several double-curved surfaces. With a solid modelling CAD software (c.f. mesh modelling) like Rhino, creating these kinds of surfaces and volumes can be rather tricky. I started by creating scale diagrams of the chair (top, bottom, front), which I used as references while building the 3D form.

Original schematics

3D model Diagrams

Wireframe of 3D model and scaled for 3D printing


Rendering, it turns out, is easy and difficult at the same time. Choosing different materials and changing surface textures is quite enjoyable, however, I found it challenging to create a convincing and realistic arrangement of lights. Part of this also is also dependent on the software used. For most of these renderings (the more ethereal looking ones), I used KeyShot, and for the last I used 3DS Max (which is what we were meant to use for this particular assignment). 


Finally, we had to 3D-print out models. This also proved challenging. As I have learnt again and again, creating something digitally and translating that into real life are two very different things, and experience which became particularly pronounced in the following project in this class. 3D prints have the unfortunate characteristic of occasionally failing. This can lead to unsavoury textures in your print, or items failing to render entirely and transforming into spaghetti-piles of plastic. The seat cushion of my first print was corrupted in this way, so I added a secondary texture finish to the chair in order to disguise the fabrication error. I also reprinted a second version in another material to see if that would work better.

Of course, the chair went on a trip around MIT with me. I also had Kora model for me in one instance. I like to think she was thoroughly confused...!

© Natasha Karolina Hirt. 2018.