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Material Revolution – From Technology to Process

Sustainability as a concept applies to a range of scales and has to be implemented in each step from planning to production to building, use and recycling. Only overall a maximum of impact is archived. For individual steps this might not make the difference but for the project of a whole this is important. In this sense taking on a global view and develop the project in a wider context is important in order to mange the palette of wide ranging impacts from source to production and recycling of a single project.

Material are playing a mayor part in this since they are the very substance each of the project steps is taking shape through the application and transformation of material. In this sense material can be seen as the very practical and central element of sustainable design.

solid poetry concrete
Image taken from traces / Solid Poetry developed this moisture reactionary concrete. Customised patterns are possible on a range of cales to appear if the concrete surface ges wet. Flowers grow as it rains or footprints emerge from pool splashes.

A lot of material innovation have changed the way products are being not only designed but also used, loved and recycled. In a new Birkhaeuser publication by the author Sacha Peters these changes in the material world are being presented. The book ‘Material Revolution: Sustainable Multi-purpose Materials for Design and Architecture‘ focuses on the latest innovations in material design as well as production. The publication presents materials as tightly interwoven with products and makes good use of product examples to demonstrate and especially illustrate the potential of a specific type of material. Also the production process is especially highlighted as part of the sustainability aspect of a material. However the recycling of the material is not discussed as a material property. This would have been an interesting aspect.

The book is structured in eight chapters grouping together materials based on properties such as Bio-Based, Biodegradable, Recycled, Leightweight, Shape-Changing, Multifunctional, Energy-Generation and Light-Influencing. These groups might not make sense as such, but are perfectly fitted with the examples they put forward. This ranges from concrete that reacts to moisture by SolidPoetry or fabrics that have a built in shape memory.

Max Schäth shape-shifting hood
Image taken from vicinteractivesurface / This is an expressive shape-shifting hood that references the senses and feelings of a person in an abstract way. It subtly transforms and changes shape via shape memory alloys. The project was developed Max Schäth.

Each material is discussed along the same three structural elements of ‘Concept and Properties’, ‘Use and Processing’ and ‘Products’. This provides a good guidance for the reader and makes it easier to compare the different material and their properties. The publication discusses a very large range and number of different materials, so many in fact that is becomes almost a material catalogue. This leaves only little room for each individual material and the provided information is rather limited. In this sense the book is a good starting point, providing an overview and basic comparison.

Interestingly there is a lot of discussion about sustainability of materials and the importance of the concept, but in the end little of this comes down to the actual material and on the leve of the material sustainability is not present, only really in the book concept. This is a shame since the importance would be for the perspective this book has chosen on each material property against its sustainability value.

Nevertheless a good catalogue for designers and architects with great product examples also as a source of inspiration, providing an overview of the latest available and upcoming materials for specific product purposes.

Image taken from Birkhaeuser on issuuu / Book preview.

Peters, S., 2011. Material Revolution: Sustainable Multi-purpose Materials for Design and Architecture, Basel: Birkhauser.