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Superyacht Design Festival 2024: Q&A with 3D printing designers Nagami

8 January 2024 • Written by Lucy Dunn

Ahead of BOAT International's Superyacht Design Festival on January 28-30, Lucy Dunn sits down with speaker and CEO Manuel Jiménez García to hear about Nagami, the revolutionary 3D-printing design company he co-founded with his brother Miguel Ángel and fellow architecture partner, Ignacio Veguera Ochoa.

3D printing has come a long way since its earliest incarnations in the 1980s, when Chuck Hull, widely considered as ‘the godfather of 3D printing’ patented the first commercial technology. Fast forward 40 years later and the technology is faster, more robust, and is now being used in everything from airline parts to artificial limbs.

One of the most exciting areas for 3D printing is in the field of design - from incredibly intricate one-off pieces of furniture imagined by top architects to wall panels, interior installations, and even whole buildings. A frontrunner in this sphere is Nagami Design, which uses recycled plastics to create some of the world’s most awe-inspiring projects. This ranges from producing intricate, traffic-stopping 3D shop facades to mark a Dior and Parley For The Oceans fashion collaboration to the ethereal LaNube installation in the Caixa Forum innovation park in Valencia.

MAWJ chair by MEAN-x-Nagami

How did Nagami first come about?

I’ve long been interested in the potential for 3D printing and the marriage between digital and physical design. By 2011, I’d started teaching computational architecture and was running a research lab at the Bartlett School of Architecture at the University College of London focusing on the creation of fabrication systems that would make architecture more sustainable, faster and more accessible.

3D printing was still in its infancy then, but I started researching how to scale it up. I realised that in order to create objects that were more robust we needed to use industrial-sized robots. A commission for The Pompidou Centre’s Imprimer Du Monde (Print The World) exhibition in 2017 led me to create the Voxel chair v1.0 with the help of my brother Miguel and friend Ignacio. The chair, now on permanent exhibition, is based on the famous Panton chair by designer Verner Panton. It is made up of a 2.4-kilometre continuous line of plastic and uses transparent, non-toxic, biodegradable plastic mixed with blue particles to create an eye-catching colour gradient.

Creating the chair was a two-year project and after that, we decided to take what we’d learnt from designing the chair and work together more formally, creating our studio, Nagami.

You’ve worked with some of the world’s top designers. Can you tell us how that came about?

One of the first things we did at Nagami was call on Ross Lovegrove, Daniel Widrig and Patrik Schumacher from Zaha Hadid to launch a series of one-off chairs that would get the design world talking. Each design was incredibly intricate and pushed the boundaries of printing. After that, we slowly started taking on bigger, more ambitious projects such as wall panels, interior installations and even larger structures such as pavilions, and are now really trying to expand 3D printing into architecture as well as design.

The Dior x Parley 3D-printed shop exterior

How has 3D printing changed?

Back in the beginning, printing even a small model of a chair could take six to eight hours. Now, using our technology it takes around three to four hours. One of the techniques we use is FDM printing, which is basically layers of plastic, one on top of the other. By using larger robots - we now have 21 huge robots in our factory, a few of them working almost round the clock - we can make structures more robust than ever before.

What are the advantages of using 3D printing over, say, sculpting a piece or using a mould?

With sculpting, you are basically removing material for a form to take shape. With printing, however, there is no waste, and you can create a form from the inside outwards. As for moulding, it’s an efficient but time-consuming and expensive process, best used for assembly-line products that you can repeat over and over again to recover the costs of creating the mould.

And you only print using recycled plastic?

Yes, and the world of recycled plastic is incredibly vast - there are different types which are good for different things and in recent years, technology has opened it up even more. We work with plastic providers as well as work with environmental organisations such as Parley For The Oceans which have the largest network on the planet for recovering plastics from coastlines. And we make sure that any installation we create that is only temporary can get broken down into pellets so we can reuse it on future projects.

What have been your most enjoyable projects?

I have to say I have been lucky enough to enjoy almost every project! One of the most recent was an interior for fashion brand Ecoalf (pictured below) which was completely wrapped with plastic that was digitally sculpted to resemble the effect of winds over a glacier that is melting because of climate change. Ecoalf is a brand that focuses on recycled fabrics and the fact that our interior used recycled plastic gave the project a brilliant synergy and the finished result was both impactful and meaningful.

The Ecoalf 'melting glacier' shop interior
Alfonso Quiroga

Any projects that have particularly tested you?

One of the most challenging projects we did was a mobile toilet cubicle called The Throne, where we recycled discarded plastic medical equipment from hospitals across Europe. I love making functional objects more beautiful and a portable toilet is probably one of the ugliest objects humanity has ever designed! It was technically challenging too - for example, it had to feature a sliding door and therefore needed to integrate mechanisms, and above all, it had to actually work.

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