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  • Writer's pictureJim Bessman

Nervous System displays generative design jigsaw puzzles ICFF

Nervous System

Jesse Louis-Rosenberg at Nervous System's ICFF booth

Generative design studio Nervous System showed its new Geode Puzzle and Infinity Puzzle at its exhibition booth at last week’s high-end luxury 2018 ICFF furniture fair at New York’s Javits Center.

The Geode Puzzle, as its name suggests, is a jigsaw puzzle inspired by the formation of colorfully banded stone agates. Each puzzle is unique because of the generative computer design process that mimic’s evolution in creating, in the case of puzzles, natural variations in shape, pieces and image, such that no two puzzles, as in nature, are alike.

Made at the company’s Somerville, Massachusetts home base out of quarter-inch birch plywood pieces—about 180 of them per puzzle (the larger Orbicular Geode Puzzle has approximately 360 pieces)—is cut in a dense, maze-like pattern with extreme intertwining of elastic rod-like pieces, making it Nervous System’s most difficult cut style.

“The image grows out like tree rings,” said the company’s co-founder/chief science officer Jesse Louis-Rosenbaum, who somehow managed to put together a Geode Puzzle at Javits in two hours, even while answering questions from prospective trade buyers.

“But it’s more traditional in that it has an edge,” he added of the puzzle, distinguishing it from the new Infinity Puzzle line, which like its title suggests, has no fixed shape or starting point, and therefore no predetermined edges as in typical rectangular jigsaw puzzles. Thus, an Infinity Puzzle can be assembled in an infinite number of ways, with any piece on the bottom able to be moved to the top, any piece on the right to the left, etc. Different colors of the puzzle, then, can be combined, endlessly, in creating edgeless abstract patterns and shapes without boundaries.

The 139-piece Infinite Galaxy Puzzle likewise “subverts traditional jigsaw puzzles” with no beginning or end and resembling, Louis-Rosenbaum said, a moebius strip (a surface with only one side) or Klein bottle, which has no inside or outside, upside or downside. Indeed, the puzzle has no up or down side, and can be started anywhere on any side. Pieces can be flipped and attached elsewhere, and there are three special space-themed “whimsy pieces” shaped like an astronaut, the space shuttle, and a satellite.

Nervous System has other puzzle designs, and also makes jewelry and housewares items including lamps and presentation boxes, all similarly nature-inspired, computer-designed and digitally fabricated.

“Everything is one-of-a-kind, using software we write that turns nature into code,” said Louis-Rosenbaum. He said that the puzzles, made at Nervous System since 2012, were inspired by the hand-cut traditional jigsaw puzzle manufacturing process employed prior to mass production.

“We bring that spirit to a more modern concept—a piece with a unique style,” he said, and sure enough, every Geode Puzzle is numbered, since all are different.

Nervous System’s designs, incidentally, are found in the permanent collections of the Museum of Modern Art, the Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum, and the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston.

Nervous System's generative design



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