The Rei was an inspiring project and a touch ahead of its time. In 2009, Japanese material firm Tras engaged the renowned product designer Keita Shimizu to create a chair that uniquely showcased its advanced carbon composite craftsmanship. The duo drew inspiration from Japan’s long history of composite work and lacquering, while the chair’s execution paid homage to the 1,300-year-old Ashura statue — a national treasure made entirely from composites.
Tras has now engaged the Swiss tech materials innovator Bcomp to do something similar using its award-winning ampliTex natural fibers for a Rei chair with sustainability credentials. Bcomp’s fiber composite solution is derived from nature but rivals artificial carbon fiber in agility and toughness. Plus, it adds a novel technical aesthetic to the chair.
As one of the country’s leading composite specialists, Tras works primarily on race cars and motorcycles. The Rei chair is thus more like a halo project, designed to showcase the build, surface and finish quality achieved through ampliTex.
Bcomp is an exciting company quietly pushing the envelope on the materials front. A little while ago, I spoke with its co-founder and CEO, Christian Fischer, who guided me through their activities involving a dynamic team of scientists and mechanical and processing engineers. They work alongside the Swiss Institute of Technology in developing alternative natural materials. Bcomp’s two technical fabrics, powerRibs and ampliTex, are less harmful to the environment than artificial equivalents yet promise to be highly durable despite being light in weight.
Naturally, these materials make sense with the auto, marine and space industries, which are eager to reduce carbon emissions. Bcomp clients include the likes of Porsche Motorsport, McLaren Racing, Polestar, Baltic Yachts and the European Space Agency. The team also makes high-performance skis and skateboards. Yet, this latest Rei chair is the ultimate object to reveal the build surface level and finish quality achieved that can be achieved using ampliTex.
It was Tras who approached Bcomp. The company was founded in 1988 by the engineer Masanao Nitta who began designing bespoke carbon bodywork for race cars and motorcycles. Tras designed and produced aerodynamic surfaces for the motorcycle endurance race Suzuka 8 Hours. A class victory with a BMW Motorrad eventually led to a partnership with the Suzuki MotoGP and a team partner for the Toyota Motorsport GmbH’s VLN bid with the Lexus IS F CCS-R.
The original Rei chair was built entirely using flax fibers and urushi lacquer, a natural resin, undergoing countless lacquering and surface polishing steps, thus applying the ancient technique to modern composite materials. The Rei wasn’t just some publicity stunt, either. Instead, the process meant Tras could achieve a unique tint that reflects the deep golden brown of natural urushi lacquer. And the project was exhibited internationally, including in Switzerland during Art Basel.
This latest Rei chair uses ampliTex, with the unique aesthetic of Bcomp’s nature-based material ideally suited to the chair’s design application. The flax weave is visible across the “bowl” structure of the chair, adding to the unusual appearance that celebrates the technology’s complexity and the rewards gained in marrying old and new.
See my interview with Bcomp CEO Christian Fischer. Also, read how Polesar utilized Bcomp’s nature-based material technology in the car interior.