Steven Haulenbeek: Cast of Characters
What people get up to during a polar vortex might not be that newsworthy but in rare cases, these periods of extreme weather can inspire experimentation and spawn fresh output. For Chicago-based Steven Haulenbeek, one such occasion served as a defining moment in his career.
What people get up to during a polar vortex might not be that newsworthy but in rare cases, these periods of extreme weather can inspire experimentation and spawn fresh output. For Chicago-based Steven Haulenbeek, one such occasion served as a defining moment in his career. During one particularly frigid day in 2011, the traditionally-trained designer was compelled to see what would happen if he poured hot wax on a frozen sidewalk puddle. The temperature shock and chemical reaction caused the liquid material to melt through the ice block and as it hardened, produce a ripple-like texture never seen before. This unexpected discovery was the catalyst for an all-new craft-led approach and two ongoing series of limited edition designs, which are presented through Carpenters Workshop Gallery.
The cumulative Ice Cast Bronze collection derives out of a desire to capture this first experiment. Unofficially in-residence at Chicago’s West Supply’s foundry, Haulenbeek began enacting the new process. Chipping into large blocks of ice, he created moulds, into which he poured hot wax. Once cooled, the hot wax forms were then transferred into bronze casting sand moulds. Using this ancient technique, the designer was able to create solid metal forms and surfaces that could assume the original shape and relief in near-perfect likeness.
Since first defining this procedure eight years ago, Haulenbeek has created hundreds of vessels, frames, armatures, and even tables. Perfecting this process and an arsenal of adapted tools has allowed the talent to not only develop larger applications but all play with different intensities of texture and structure. And yet, Haulenbeek’s bespoke methodology strikes a balance between control and chance. Most recently, he cast a vase out of a massive snowball—which engendered entirely different results. Linking this series with his ongoing industrial design practice, the designer is hoping to also develop more architectural details using this technique, including a monumental fireplace screen.
Growing out the Ice Cast Bronze series and similar epiphany of unexpected discovery, Haulenbeek’s Resin Bonded Sand (RBS) series makes use of the sand used in the lost cast bronze process. Seeking to reproduce the harden quality of the composite with resin, the designer was able to create a new material that is both sturdy and malleable. Much like its earlier counterpart, the collection has expanded in innumerable directions; particularly organic yet cubic shelving units are joined by lamps and coral-esque vases.
Haulenbeek’s ability to find equilibrium in his work is not only a question of material or process-based fatalism but also the ability to work in both the realms of high-end gallery work and more traditional product design. Though challenging at times, this balancing acts allows one facet of his practice to inform the other. While one offers the designer space and time to experiment, the other affords him a sense of financial stability and wider influence.