Aluminium is a silvery-white, soft, ductile and non-magnetic metal. It is the third most abundant element after oxygen and silicon, and the most abundant metal in the Earth’s crust. This material that often goes unnoticed, overlooked as a simple everyday material that we can use to wrap our leftovers, or can our food, has incredible properties and a beautiful sheen that we cant get enough of.
As mentioned, we commonly think about aluminium in its thinnest form as a foil that we use to wrap food in, or as a sheet base to bake in the oven, or even as an easy to access, cheap crafting material. Go up a few microns and you get a sturdier version of the foil in the shape of thin sheets that can be shaped in tins and cans for our drinks and conserves.
However this lightweight metal has a range of properties that make it unique, versatile and incredibly useful across industries–packaging, aerospace, automotive and construction industries, as well as in transportation, energy, and defence applications.
Here are some of the properties that make it so special:
MDR Gallery had already honed in on these features and had discovered the beauty in aluminium transformed by designers with an eye for aesthetics. This became the theme of their feature exhibition for London Craft Week 2019, called ALU! and it included work by Studio Vit, Sigve Knutson, Radek Husak, Silo Studio, and Bram Vanderbeke and Wendy Andreu.
This new generation of designers has reinvented and reimagined how aluminium can be used and perceived by highlighting different techniques that can be used on the metal, including hammering, casting, hand-polishing, spinning and laser cutting. Long associated with sleek, mass-produced objects the final results showcase in this display allows us to see what can be done with this seemingly quiet and unassuming material.
Photo credit: MDR Gallery
Wendy Andreu and Bram Vanderbeke – Pyramid Shelves
The Pyramids shelves come in a range of shapes and sizes, but they all have one thing in common- they are made up of a series of laser-cut aluminium components that are put together without the use of screws, rivets or welding. They are functional and can be used to hold objects, books, or even as a table surface, and yet these totemic looking objects become much more than a storage unit behaving as sculptures as well. The pyramids are incredibly simple, directly covered by a reflective metallic skin that mirrors the light and its surroundings that accentuating the beauty of the aluminium it is made out of.
“Aluminium creates alumina which is basically a transparent, very hard and resistant coating of a few nano-millimetres, which covers the full surface. Therefore, this metal has the ability to keep the same aspect overtime and does not necessarily need a coating like paint or varnish.” Bram Vanderbeke
Studio Vit combines the familiar material aluminium, with uncommon manufacturing techniques for the production of their architectural Cone Lights- a collection of lights in a combination of aluminium and glass. The spheres are hand-blown glass and the cones are spun aluminium. Together the spheres and the cones make up a collection of pendant, table and floor lights. The lights are either hand polished, giving the metal a rare and surprising quality, or marble-blasted, where the surface achieves a delicate lustre. The mirror finish catches the light and reflects the full colour spectrum offering an iridescent hue from some angles. On the other hand the marble blasting makes the aluminium appear stone-like, matt and textured. Cone lights was originally designed for a solo exhibition at Etage Projects in 2015 and later included as a part of Alu! at MDR Gallery.
Radek experimented with pigment transfer and carbon pencil on sandblasted aluminium as his canvas, creating unique textures and graphic effects in his collection called Trace.
Photo credit – MDR Gallery
The Cast Hanger, The Cast Stool and The Hammered Lamp
Aluminium is low cost, easily bendable and melts at a low temperature, which means I can experiment with casting and mould-making techniques without starting a fire,” said Oslo-based designer Sigve Knutson, whose hammered and cast aluminium pieces were part of the Alu! show.
Sigve began to use aluminium as a student at the Design Academy in Eindhoven, when she discovered a foundry near the school and found that it was one of the few materials she could easily afford.
The Cast Hanger is a large and impactful sculptural piece and is one of Sigve’s first large scale items in cast aluminium. The open-structured Cast Stool is similarly formed using the lost-foam casting process. Both pieces make use of common packaging foam tube and peanuts in their structure.
The Hammered Lamp is a table light forming part of Sigve’s Hammered Aluminium Objects series. Like the other pieces in the collection, this original object is created from hand-hammered sheet aluminium. The delicate surface texture and rounded form catches the light beautifully.
Photo credit – MDR Gallery
Silo Studio created and produced BEAM, a collection of small dishes and candle holders, from sections of extruded aluminium profiles more usually used for architectural construction. The profiles are sliced, drilled, tumbled, merging craft and industry in the making process of making these pieces.
Photo credit – MDR Gallery