Tradition Meets Technology

Ateliar MEL designs and manufactures high quality contemporary light fittings that blend modern digital techniques with traditional glass craftsmanship. Co-founder Maria Ruiz Pardo talks to darc about the complexities of working with glass.

Atelier MEL studio designs high quality contemporary light fittings that blend modern digital techniques with traditional glass craftsmanship. The studio brings together digital designers, engineers, architects and artisans with a single goal: rethink the glass craftsmanship to take it one step further.

Launched at the end of 2013 in Spain, the studio’s co-founders Maria Ruiz Pardo and Roberto Molinos met while studying architecture at Barcelona University in Spain and while they approach the field from different perspectives – Pardo enamoured with the design aspect and Molino more interested in the technological side – the idea of working together was appealing and something they toyed with for some time.

Having watched a live glass blowing demonstration during Noche de los Museos (the annual museums night) in Molino’s hometown of Cartagena, the duo saw an opportunity to reinvent the trade and create pieces suited to current design and fabrication trends.

Pardo tells darc: “To us glass is magic, it’s an ancient material that requires highly skilled artisans to work with it. The process has changed very little throughout history, but we thought it had great potential to be re-invented and enriched with the introduction of digital design technology.

“When we first began working with glass the idea of introducing light came really quickly. It just seemed natural to add light to the recipe; it’s the only element that at its best can show the transparency, translucency, brightness or reflection of the artisan pieces. Most of our designs have a natural inspiration, waves on the ocean, comets in the sky, and the geometry behind natural structures. The glass components of DUNA for example, are composed by softly curved rounded glass pieces assembled following a triangular pattern, while LOTO uses flower shaped glass pieces assembled on a square grid – interpretations of Gaudi’s famous ornamental pieces.”

In some of the studio’s latest designs Atelier Mel hs begun to separate blown glass pieces from the light sources, projecting shadows on the surfaces around, mimicking the effect of light in contact with water.

“Glass is a transparent liquid that modifies the direction of the light rays due to the natural imperfections of the artisan pieces,” Pardo explains.

Utilising their multidisciplinary team Atelier MEL is able to think outside of the box and approach working with glass in a new, fresh way, including the client in the design process.

“Anyone can play with our online tool MEL Composer to create their own unique design,” says Pardo. “Our collections are predesigned open concepts, each has its own glass shape and assembly pattern and is adapted to each client’s requirements, while bespoke projects are concepts we develop for a particular space.

“The first step of our process is the design of the glass components using Rhino3D, the shape is then translated into the physical world through digital fabrication. With the printed shapes we fabricate ceramic moulds to finally fuse flat sheets of artisan glass on top, the metallic lattice that holds the glass pieces is also digitally designed and fabricated. All of our collections are made with thermoformed glass, for the bespoke projects we can use blowing, torch, engraving and fusing techniques.”

Artisan glass techniques are extremely complex and the fabrication cost is very high compared to other materials so the team at Atelier MEL combated this issue by making their own adaptive mould that can be configured in more than 80 different ways to create 80 different shapes.

“Being able to extract an entire collection of complementary shapes from one single mould is a huge improvement. The process of crafting the glass components requires a lot of time and attention but we are able to optimise all the other processes necessary to create a bespoke piece. Using digital technologies we can create open concepts that can be studied in real time working hand-in-hand with the design team in charge of making the final decision. The fabrication of the structural components is also made using technology we have in-house so this makes the process faster and cheaper and the designs more versatile.”

Despite the cost and complexity of the materials there is something to be said for its adaptability and historic beauty, a trait not lost on Pardo: “We can play with the entire transparency range of glass, from totally opaque to totally transparent. We also consider the impact of natural light on an object as a way to maximise its beauty throughout the day. It is possibly the only material that can offer that versatility. We can provide diffusion, reflection or transparency with one single material.

“Glass is all about transparency, translucency and reflection and those properties only make sense in combination with light. Glass and light are made for one another.”

www.ateliermel.com