What’s the fuss about materials?

Why have materials become such a fascination for designers and why should there be an exhibition like the Hello Materials exhibition that looks into this area? It’s a good question to ask because with all the material libraries, databases that have sprung up over the world over the last 12 years we should take a moment to consider why in order to understand the future.

The last hundred years witnessed a huge evolution in the number of new materials: advanced ceramics, aluminium (yes it was relatively recently a ‘new’ material), stainless steel, glass, composites and of course plastics. Plastics in particular transformed mass-production and also the way our world looked by creating products in bright, constantly changing colours. Today the innovations in materials continues to take place unabated so why is this a good moment to take a small breath and consider the role of materials in an exhibition? Partly because the window of the future is always an interesting place to peer into but also because the world and the connection we have with materials is going through an incredible change, driven by two main themes. One is the need for sustainable alternatives to modern materials, dwindling natural resources, high energy consumption and toxic ingredients, the other is driven by cultural requirements and materials fulfilling stories of desire and emotional connections in products, furniture, fashion, buildings.

NovomerHowever, unlike the last hundred years the next materials age is not going to be as visible. It won’t lead to the type of vision of the future, that we had the 1950’s where the future was pastel coloured, with aerodynamic vehicles flying about our heads. The themes will be many but for sure they will be driven by low-energy, materials scarcity, new interactions with materials and more stories expressed through materials. Things that are unlike plastics are invisible. In relation to new sustainable materials, one example is Novomer a technology that is nothing short of alchemy, being a plastic material made with greenhouse gases such as carbon monoxide and carbon dioxide.

CO and CO2 are often singled out as the main culprits behind global warming, so you can imagine the positive impact on the environment if these abundant substances could be harvested and recycled.

In relation to technology the information that you receive on your phone, laptop, TV, or the increasing number of other screen based electronic devices, will change the physical interaction you have with materials rather than change the way they look.

“Our need to explore new sources of energy might mean that the road you drive down won’t be just path for cars, but a surface to generate electricity”

Our need to explore new sources of energy might mean that the road you drive down won’t be just path for cars, but a surface to generate electricity. The Glastonbury Festival, became the stage for ‘Dance Charge Man’ a man how danced power into your mobile phone. The walls of your room won’t just be a place to decorate with your favourite colour but to chose the function that suits your life best: noise reduction, smell neutralisation, pollution killing or interactive large-scale smart screens made of ultra-strong, thin glass made from one of the heroes of modern glass technologies Gorilla Glass. The packaging of water bottles will look exactly the same but will be made from corn starch.

Gorilla 2It is going to be a combination of these sustainable materials and new interfaces that is going to be driving the innovation of our urban environment, not just as it was in the past colours or textures. Even in the fantasies of Hollywood movies the scenarios around an environment that is not dissimilar to the one we have now. Unlike the 1950’s vision of the world today the world they portray still looks pretty much as it does today. Mutating Matter is a great technology that has a high wow factor but is unrecognisable different. It is not going to be in the next ten or fifteen years, it will be beyond that and no one can really say what the world will look like but it’s a good time to ask the question.

About Chris Lefteri
Chris is an internationally recognized leading authority on materials and application of materials in design.
> More about Chris Lefteri

Hello Materials exhibitionAbout the Hello Materials exhibition
Experience fascinating examples of present and future materials and gain an insight into what they will mean to society and the individual. Visit the exhibition between the 2nd of April and the 21st of September 2012.
> Visit ddc.dk for more information about the Hello Materials exhibition

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