Oskar Zieta — Interview

After following his work for several years, I finally got the chance to interview visionary engineer and designer Oskar Zieta for AD China in 2013.

Oskar Zieta with his groundbreaking Plopp stool

Oskar Zieta first came to prominence at the Milan fair in 2007 when he exhibited his inflated steel Plopp stool for the first time. This distinctive piece was quickly adopted by the Danish company HAY, helping to establish their characteristic bold and innovative style. But the designer didn’t stop there. This simple and rather impractical stool became the starting point for years of technical development that would see fruition in areas as diverse as wind turbines, bridges, structural forms for architecture and sculpture. Zieta is now the head of a company bearing his name with over 30 staff and countless new innovations. This being the furniture fair, it is chairs and tables on display, but Zieta is enthusiastic about all areas of design and for the growing potential of the inflated steel structures for which he has become famous. “We use the design collection as a platform to develop this technology. We are not only designers. We are looking for applications in many different areas.” Despite proven successes in a number of areas, the process, which can be described in simple terms as pumping air into a welded stainless steel bladder, is still treated with some suspicion by those who would rather not leave things to chance: “As designers, we try to control the material, but the material is so complex that we can only control the general form, not the local deformation. It is like growing, like a natural product, like wood. Every time the steel takes the best form for the power applied.” Trained as an architect, Zieta is now more likely to be described as an engineer, designer, entrepreneur or philosopher, possibly all at once, but he is clearly happy to be outside the mainstream, which is unlikely to have led him along his path of innovation. “It is funny, but the deformation of these shapes is defined by engineering standards such as DIN as an error – something to be avoided – so engineers won’t work with it, but we have been able to show that it is the best technology to efficiently produce elements for construction.”

While the glossy, painted Plopp stools remain popular, it is the potential of this system as a ‘flat-pack’ that is really exciting. “A very important part of our strategy is volume expansion. We send to our customers in two-dimensional form. This is the most important aspect – we are creating new design, we are not stylists.” The pressure required to inflate each design depends on its volume and surface area, but it can be as simple as using a bicycle pump or putting a little water into the cavity and heating it in an oven. This is enough to create the force necessary to expand the metal and from there dramatically alter its structural properties. One recent work, a 6m footbridge, managed to support 2000kg, despite weighing in at just 174 kilogrammes. This year as well as the expanded metal work, Zieta was showing for the first time new works in carbon fibre and also punched metal. These follow a similar theme of stabilising thin materials to capitalise on their strength. The latter, named “3+” uses a high tech adhesive to yield a steel sandwich that is very stiff and strong with a character reminiscent of a child’s construction toy. The similarity turns out to be deliberate: “Today people are more nomadic and take more work with them. This is partly a symbolic project as this becomes a part of your work at home. Kids work well with these construction toys, but adults not so well, so this is the system for us.” This system can be adapted to make almost anything from desks and chairs to partition walls, shelving and storage. With so many exciting innovations in the short life of his company, we are sure to see more developments and applications from this company and its charismatic designer. 



Oskar Zieta with Plopp Stool in Green (photo – Ben Hughes)


Oskar Zieta with Plopp Stool in Green (photo – Ben Hughes)


Zieta Stand at MOST, Milan (photo – Ben Hughes)


Zieta 3+ system chair


Zieta 3+ system


Zieta 3+ system chair

Zieta_plopp inox 2.jpg

Zieta Plopp Stool in Stainless steel.


Zieta Rondo Mirror in Stainless Steel


Zieta Rondo Mirror in Stainless Steel


Zieta Logo