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FutureFactories began as Blue Skies Research in 2002, created by artist and designer Lionel Theodore Dean. It explores a post-industrial age in which 3D artifacts can be "printed" directly from computer data. The aim is to combine computer-aided design (CAD) with computer scripts to create "living" designs that exist in constant metamorphosis. These virtual meta-designs can then be translated into real-world products, via direct digital manufacturing, offering a potentially infinite stream of one-off solutions.
The project has proved a huge success, with outputs ranging from gallery pieces to retail designs for well-known manufacturers. The work has been widely published and exhibited around the world. In 2005, one of the pieces, Tuber9, was acquired by the Museum of Modern Art in New York for its permanent design collection. Academically, the project has developed from an initial design residency into a practice-based PhD study.
Lionel Theodore Dean has a master's degree from the Royal College of Art, London, and is a graduate engineer. Today his work focuses exclusively on digital manufacturing, though the FutureFactories project has pioneered the concept of mass individualization, the industrial-scale production of one-off artifacts. The FutureFactories concept requires forms capable of mutation and evolution. Growth structures seen in the natural world are a great influence in the work. Dean tries to imagine what a product might have evolved from and what it might ultimately develop into. His fascination lies in how natural forms have evolved, as much as in the shapes themselves. Rather than imitate nature directly, he strives to create the flora and fauna of an alien landscape.
Lionel Theodore Dean