The Cool Hunt

The Cool Hunt Every architecture office has a materials library, though that can mean anything from a pile of product samples to a rigorously organized and staffed archive. Luckily for architects, the explosion of new materials in the last decade has brought with it an array of tools to help architects keep up with it all. Cathy Lang Ho surveys the sources. For an installation in Milan during the International Furniture Fair last month, Steven Holl Architects created a piece (left) that explored the theme porosity,, using a wood-veneered aluminum he found at Material Connexion. The material’s ability to be laser cut and creased without breaking perfectly suited the design. Nick Gelpi Is not architecture determined by new materials and new methods?? Le Corbusier wrote in Architectural Record in 1929. The Swiss architect pressed further: A hundred years of new materials and new methods have made no change whatsoever in your [American] architectural viewpoint.. And where do things stand today? American architecture is still not exactly regarded as being on the forefront of material or technological innovation. Architecture is so boring,, lamented George Beylerian, president of Material Connexion, the mother of all materials resources, founded in 1997. What happened to the days when architects were fearless? It seems like only a few are trying to see what they can do with new materials or new ways of using materials.. Of Material Connexion’s 1,200 users, architects comprise a minority, far outnumbered by industrial designers, manufacturers, and even fashion designers who tap into Material Connexion’s Manhattan library or online database, where thousands of cutting-edge materials and processes have been juried, explicated, and catalogued. Some might consider the cost of Material Connexion’s membership an obstacle: An individual membership, which includes access to both on-site and web libraries, is $450 per year. A corporate membership, which allows up to four people to use the on-site and web libraries, is $1,470. Many architecture firms balk at such fees, unlike, say, Prada, BMW, Target, or Steelcase (members all). But the payoff can be immense. With materials harvested from sources like the journal of the Society of Plastic Engineers and industries from medical equipment to aerospace, Material Connexion’s offerings are more surprising and fantastical than what one would encounter walking the floors of a building trade fair. Consultation comes with the membership. Designers will come and tell us the characteristics they’re looking for in a material, and we’ll do our best to narrow down the possible solutions,, said Angela Aldrete, who works in the library. For many of Material Connexion’s membersswho include Jean Nouvel, Bernard Tschumi, Diller Scofidio + Renfro, Office of Metropolitan Architectureethe amount of time saved by this type of research assistance can be priceless. The most recent issue of DesignAid included MesoOptics’ PureFX (left), in which a material is coated with a special film that transforms a laser point into a line with only a five percent loss of light; and Bendywood, available in beech, ash, oak, and maple, can be bent in a cold, dry state at a radius of over ten times its thickness (below). Courtesy Inventables Robin Reigi, whose eponymous showroom in Chelsea provides innovative materials and processes to architects and designers, has also seen a burgeoning demand for material research since she started her business six years ago. Somewhat organically, she has branched into material consultation, with clients like General Motors, Nissan, and Herman Miller recruiting her to hunt down materials to solve specific design problems. But Reigi doesn’t expect architects to start paying for advice. We market our products to them but we won’t look to them for fees,, she said. The best service she can provide is to act as a filter, offering a carefully edited selection of products that are functionally and visually extraordinary. She represents mostly small (under $5 million) companies, and often works closely with them to improve or develop products and processes that she thinks will appeal to architects. Architects always tell me what they want, and it often makes me think, Does that exist? If it doesn’t, why not? And who can make it?? Reigi said. For architects who are part of that large New York demographic that’s addicted to having everything delivered, two compelling subscription services have emerged in response to the wave of material-mania. Chicago-based company Inventables launched DesignAid three years ago, a quarterly magazine about fresh technologies and materials that comes with a box of labeled samples (about 20 in each installment). Zach Kaplan and Keith Schacht came up with the concept for DesignAid after talking to architects and designers and finding that everyone’s office was in chaos,, in Kaplan’s words. The service starts at $6,500 yearly and increases according to the size of the firm and number of users. Meanwhile, Princeton Architectural Press is launching a similar publication, though on a smaller scale than DesignAid. Subscribers to Materials Monthly will receive three to five samples per month, for $200 per year or $24.95 per volume. Schacht would not specify how many subscribers DesignAid has, though he did note that architects are the smallest group, lagging far behind manufacturers, industrial designers, and interior designers. One reasonable explanation is that new materials are easier to apply to fashion, products, and interiors than architecture. It takes a lot of guts for an architect to use a material that’s new and hasn’t been tested,, said Rita Catinella Orrell, product editor at Architectural Record. When she’s wading through the thousands of product samples and press releases she sees every year, she pays particular attention to the amount of research a manufacturer has done to back up a product. Sure, there are general trends that manufacturers and architects are interested in at the moment, like translucency and sustainability,, she said. But getting something tested and approved for buildings is a long process.. It’s easy to get sucked into the sexy trap,, agreed Morley Bland, resource director at Beyer Blinder Belle, but when push comes to shove, if something is unproven, too expensive, or so special that you have to wait around for it, most architects be reluctant to use it.. Bland is a member of the Research Directors Association, a group of individuals who are formally in charge of their firms’ libraries or informally their firms’ resident product geek.. Only in its sixth year, the group has chapters across the country and about 200 members, 60 in New York who meet monthly. Their primary aim is to share information, for example, turning each other on to cool new finds or providing recommendationssor warningssabout specific materials or manufacturers. They also share ideas about how to best conduct research and present their findings to their firms. Some make staff presentations, while others send weekly email newsletters. Blaine Brownell, an architect and Seattle-based NBBJ’s resident product guru, has gone so far as to offer free product-of-the-week email newsletters to anyone who asks. (He also created his own printed and PDF catalogue of new materials, Transmaterial, available on his website.) The group has also discussed ways of creating a national shared database and of formalizing what they do, perhaps by establishing requirements or at least a clear definition of the resource director’s job, which might increase their value to a firm. All this progress on the materials front is sure to pull architecture along with it. Cathy Lang Ho is an editor at AN. RESOURCES www.materialconnexion.com www.robin-reigi.com www.inventables.com www.rdanet.org www.transstudio.com Materials Matter Material Connexion recently launched a quarterly publication called Matter, which is mailed to its library members and distributed at its resource centers in Manhattan, Cologne, and Milan. Featuring case studies, profiles, and topical articles, the latest issue (#3, Spring 2005) also presents four best in showw materialssstand-outs from Material Connexion’s monthly jury sessions. The following is excerpted with permission: Cement: Construction Cement (MC# 5151-01) High toughness cement for construction. This cement is a high-performance material that possesses a unique combination of properties including good tensile and compressive strength, ductility, durability, and enhanced aesthetics. It has been designed to serve contemporary architectural creativity and can be used in a highly diverse range of applications. There are currently three different types of this cement: FM contains metal fibers and is suitable for structural civil engineering applications such as load-bearing structures; AF is a variation of FM that includes the same mechanical properties and incorporates excellent standardized fire-resistance behavior; and FO contains organic fibers and is suitable for architectural applications such as wall panels, furniture, canopies, etc. Current applications are for architectural and engineering applications where high-performance cement is required. It can be used as a self-consolidating material, which can replicate fine formwork detail or dry cast, facilitating the creation of highly architectural aesthetic structures. Process: Fragrance Encapsulation (MC# 5167-01) Moldable resin with encapsulated fragrance. A custom-designed fragrance is incorporated into a cellulose base polymer and extruded into pellets. These pellets form the raw material for secondary injection molding into various shapes. The fragrance has a lifespan of 20 years from initial encapsulation and there are currently over 20,000 different fragrances that may be encapsulated. A range of percentage loadings (the intensity of fragrance) as well as color co-ordinations is available in pearlized, gloss, and matte finishes. Current applications include injection molded packaging items for cosmetic and fragrance industries, watchbands, and toys. Naturals: Formable Composite Board (MC# 5165-01) Molded composite panel from recycled carpet. Natural (wool) and synthetic (nylon 6 and nylon 6, 6) fibers from post-consumer carpet is bonded using a synthetic resin (non-urea formaldehyde) with heat and pressure to create rigid paneling for construction. The panels have good compressive and impact strength, are water, mold, and rot resistant, may be machined easily using conventional woodworking tools and exhibit excellent dimensional stability. Thermoforming is possible, creating de-bossed surfaces as well as hemispherical cylinders with radii of curvature diameters as low as 4 inches (10.2 centimeters). Panel thickness ranges from 0.37551 inches (112.54 centimeters) and panel sizes up to 4 x 24 feet (1.22 x 7.3 meters). The panels may be laminated with wood veneers, GRP (glass reinforced plastic) sheets, or painted. Current applications are for wallboard, as an alternative to MDF for cabinetry and office furniture and as an alternative to pressure treated lumber. Polymers: Acoustical Panel (MC# 5174-02) Acoustical panels for interior exposed applications. Expanded polypropylene pellets are bonded together to create a lightweight, non-fibrous sound-absorbing panel used as an exposed tackable surface. The panels are available in white and charcoal gray in 1 and 2 inches (2.54, 5.08 centimeters) thicknesses and in 2 x 2 and 2 x 4 feet (60.1 x 60.1, 60.1 x 122 centimeters) sizes. The panels comply with ASTM E-84 class 1 for flame spread and smoke generation and give absorption of both low and high frequency sound (12554,000Hz). The surface of the panels may be cleaned with regular detergents and are both water resistant and have high impact strength. Current applications are for sound absorption in gymnasiums, swimming pools, and other sports facilities, in manufacturing clean rooms, food processing plants and restaurants as well as machine shops, offices, and gun ranges. Material-of-the-month Club Princeton Architectural Press introduces a subscription-based catalogue of new materials Materials Monthly’s first issue (left) includes Polygal’s polycarbonate sheets (below), which feature extreme flexibility and durability, and KnollTextiles’ Imago resin sheets (at bottom), which are embedded with fabric. Courtesy Princeton Architectural Press This month, a new publication will join the ranks of subscription services dedicated to helping architects specify materials. Materials Monthly, published by Princeton Architectural Press, has a different take on materials than established publications like McGraw-Hill’s Sweets catalog, however. Ten times per year, subscribers will receive a cardboard box filled with three to five samples of innovative products, along with leaflets describing their potential applications, technical specifications, and manufacturers. The sheets will be indexed for easy organization, and subscribers will receive a binder system for storage. Subscribers will also have access to a searchable database and an online forum for architects to post their experiences using materials they find through the service (www.materialsmonthly.com). Los Angelessbased architect Jennifer Siegel is editing the content of the first ten boxes. According to publisher Kevin Lippert, guest-edited issues are also in the works. We’d like to do some issues that are related to a specific building, where an architect, say, from Frank Gehry’s office, might talk about three interesting materials used in the Disney Concert Hallltheir upsides as well as their downsides,, said Lippert. Inspired by his childhood subscription to a service that sent science kits through the mail every month, Lippert wants the new publication to be playful as well as useful. Getting cool new stuff in the mail is something architects enjoy,, said Lippert. He also sees small firms using the service to build or enrich their libraries without too much hassle. There are so many new materials coming out these days that it’s hard for small practices to keep on top of what’s going on,, he said. That’s especially true for firms based outside of metropolitan areas like New York.. Materials Monthly already has a few hundred subscribers, according to Lippert, and he’d like to see those architects contribute to the direction of the publication. The whole thing is kind of fluid,, he said. We’re looking at what the audience is interested in, and that will lead us in new directions.. DEBORAH GROSSBERG is an editor at AN. It’s Not Easy Being Green Specifying sustainable materials is still harder than it should be. Deborah Grossberg looks at the problems involved, and the best ways to go about going green. 3form, a Salt Lake Cityybased materials company concerned with sustainability, developed EcoResin, a 40 percent post-grind recycled resin, which serves as a base for all its products. Its newest line of resins, Varia 05, includes layers of sustainably harvested materials from across the globe, as in Capiz (pictured at left), which features Indonesian Capiz shells. Courtesy 3form In the past decade, sustainability has become an essential part of an architect’s vocabulary, and the demand for green building materials is growing in step. Materials specialists report that architects and designers are in consistent pursuit of green materials. Though some of those conversations are stymied by lack of availability or high costs, their increased demand has driven manufacturers to develop and test more and more green building products. The Alliance for Sustainable Built Environments, an organization composed of six major companies in the building products businesssPhilips Lighting, Johnson Controls, Forbo Flooring, Owens Corning, JohnsonDiversey, and Milliken Carpetssis one new collaborative that’s pushing the movement further by banding together and serving as one-stop shopping for architects or clients seeking green solutions. Paul von Paumgartten, director of energy and environmental affairs at Johnson Controls, said, Everyone who makes a product in the building industry is in the process of making their products green. If they don’t get it, they’re going to be left behind.. Von Paumgartten’s attitude is driven by bottom line as much as a commitment to the environment. As city and state governments mandate standards for energy efficiency based on systems like the U.S. Green Building Council’s (USGBC) LEED certification, manufacturers have begun to see sustainability as the future of their largest contracts. Around a quarter of all Fortune 500 companies now do an annual sustainability report,, said von Paumgartten, who has also served on the board of USGBC. What they’re finding is that they consume a huge amount of energy in their buildings.. The company is also thinking green at the design level; it utilizes a software application to help architects design with EcoResin in a cost-effective and waste-conscious manner. 3form’s booth at ICFF used the software to duplicate and flip its undulating surfaces, thereby cutting in half the number of molds needed. Courtesy 3form But even as talk of sustainability becomes mainstream, problems remain for architects. For one thing, the question of what’s green and what’s not is a matter of constant contention. Mark Piepkorn, an editor of GreenSpec, a catalogue of green building materials and products published annually by Vermont-based BuildingGreen (which also publishes Environmental Building News), said, It’s difficult to figure out which products are truly green. There’s no way to make a formula that you can apply the same way to every product every time.. For example, though a product’s recycled-content and recycling potential are generally regarded as green attributes, they can pose a conundrum, particularly when considering a material’s lifecycle. Polyvinyl chlorides, or PVCs, which are used in most vinyl building products, cause a great deal of damage during processing, use, and disposal, when they release noxious chemicals such as dioxins into the environment. Some companies have come out with recycled PVCs, but these materials still have serious environmental consequences at the fabrication or disposal stages, even though recycling does lessen the amount of PVCs in landfills. LEED decided in February not to provide credits for avoidance of PVCs, stating on its website that the available science does not support such a creditt? a decision many in the industry find irresponsible. Two new green materials available at Robin Reigi Art & Objects are Kirei Board (left), a strong, lightweight wood alternative made from compressed and woven raw sorghum stalks and bonded with formaldehyde-free adhesive; and Icestone (below), a stone substitute made of concrete and 75 percent post-consumer recycled glass, and manufactured in a day-lit facility in the Brooklyn Navy Yard. Courtesy Robin Reigi Art & Objects A major problem for architects hoping to specify green building materials is the lack of a standardized, reliable system for classifying and comparing them. Life Cycle Assessments (LCAs))scientific studies of a material’s impact on the environment before, during, and after processinggare expensive, difficult, and time-consuming to perform. Manufacturers pay for them, but without a dependable third-party system for disseminating information about the studies, it is often hard for architects to tell whether the manufacturers are highlighting good results in one category of performance while suppressing negative ones in otherssin effect, greenwashing their products. Some third-party rating systems do exist, but none have been singled out as the definitive source for information about green materials. Of the available systems, Building for Environmental and Economic Sustainability (BEES) software, developed by the National Institute of Standards and Technology and available for free online at www.bfrl.nist.gov, allows architects and designers to compare the relative sustainability of 200 classes of generic materials, but not specific products. Another source, ASTM’s Standard Practice for Data Collection for Sustainability Assessment of Building Products (coded E2129-03) provides manufacturers and architects with a template for conducting LCAs. A PDF of the document costs $33, and is available online at www.astm.org. The most promising new rating system proposed, a web-based tool called eLCie developed by the International Design Center for the Environment (IDCE), will be launched in June. eLCie will provide manufacturers a chance to submit information for third-party LCAs at reduced rates, and the completed quantitative assessments will be displayed in standardized forms online, allowing architects to compare ratings for specific products at a glance. eLCie will be compatible with Autodesk’s Revit software, allowing architects to quantitatively compare the relative environmental gains of using different materials in a given project. Architects interested in trying the software can sign up for a free two-month trial at www.idce.org. Another encouraging development was the USGBC’s release of the long-awaited rating system for existing buildings (LEED-EB) in November. The program focuses more on the lifecycle of a building and its materials than LEED for new construction does, and it is significantly cheaper to obtain. Many environmentally conscious architects have skipped the confusion and expense of green materials, choosing instead to think about green design on a macro scale. It’s often cheaper to go green with design solutions like daylighting or rain water catchment than green material specification,, said Piepkorn. In any case, a more holistic solution is necessary in the long run. According to von Paumgartten The greening of materials is a trend that’s only going to get bigger and broader and bolder.. DEBORAH GROSSBERG Mori, Material Maverick Architect Toshiko Mori designed the installation for the Extreme Textiles show at the Cooper-Hewitt, but her interest in new materials is long-standing. Anne Guiney recently spoke with Mori about her research into textiles and their applications in architecture. all images courtesy toshiko mori architect You have been looking into the possibilities of textiles in architecture for some time now, first with the show Immaterial/Ultramaterial (Harvard Design School, 2001), and the accompanying book (George Braziller, 2002), then with your work for the Extreme Textiles show, and now for your forthcoming book Textile Tectonic (George Braziller, 2005). Immaterial/Ultramaterial started the exploration, and looked specifically at materials and their properties. It is very expensive and time-consuming to develop new materials, and so we [Mori and Nader Tehrani, of Bostonn based Office dA] worked with students to combine two or more materials and their different properties. For example, insect netting used on doors has tensile strength. If you pleat or iron it, you give it structure. By casting it in clear rubber, it becomes solid and stable. Two weak materials can then become one strong one. The question was how to change the original properties of materialssmuch like reinforced concrete. A self-supporting fiberglass staircase Mori recently installed at a house in Florida, shown here in the shop in which it was fabricated. Textile Tectonic is the second version, and deals with issues of fabrication. Once you start talking about materials, you have to start thinking about how to use them in making things, and issues of performance. After you develop a material, and then begin to fabricate with it, you have to ask yourself Why?? The answer is ultimately in how it performs. New materials are often developed by or for the military, the medical industry, or other industries for specific applications, in which one can articulate the performance precisely. In nanotechnology, the idea that you can make new materials for specific purposes is still more theoretical. In a sense with textiles, we are already there. We can use them to protect from heat, to waterproof things, to give strength, and to produce them in any pattern. They can be multilayered and multifaceted. What are some applications for textiles in building? Boat building is an almost didactic example of the ways they have been used. The traditional methods of constructionnwooden plank cladding over a structural wooden frameegave way to plywood, which in turn gave way to composite materials like fiberglass. Now, boats are basically all made out of textiles. With composites, one can weave different materials and different strands, or change the direction of the weave of the fiber in the composites. There can be specific weaves for specific layers, to better distribute load of the wind or the force of the water. In Eric Goetz’s shop [a Connecticut-based boat builder also featured in Extreme Textiles], you can see this evolution. He makes hulls for America’s Cup yachts, and they have to be very stiff and very lighttlight for speed and stiff to stand up to the extreme forces of the water and the wind. There is a huge amount of money involved, but I am interested in the question of how to make this amazing machine out of textiles. Three projects developed by Mori’s students at Harvard in a 2003 seminar called Weaving Materials and Habitation.. Top: This project explored the idea of floppy structures, and the minimum amount support that must be used to create a shelter. Center: To develop an unlikely and weak material into something strong, students pasted five layers of toilet paper together, and then notched and wove the resulting strands into this undulating wall. Bottom: To explore the lateral distribution of force, students sandwiched elastic between two layers of basswood, and then wove them into a wall which responds to touch. Opposite: A rendering of Mori’s installation design for the Extreme Textiles show at the Cooper-Hewitt. How have you been able to apply these ideas in your own work? I recently completed a staircase for a house in Florida. The conditions there are extremeethe wind, sun, and water are all very strong. We had to come up with a material that is light and that can stand up to these forces. Stainless steel is good, but it isn’t really stain-free. We designed a structural staircase made out of seven layers of composite fiberglass on the stairs themselves; the landing is made out of nine layers. Usually, fiberglass is used as infill paneling, but in this case, there are no supporting beams. Another project I am working on with Eric Goetz is to develop a series of lightweight roof prototypes out of composite materials, almost like an upside-down boat hull. Ideally, a great deal of the infrastructure would be woven into the roof. But boat hulls have much tougher performance criteria than typical buildings, and are much more expensive, so I have to keep telling Eric, It’s not for [America’s Cup entrant] Team Prada, okay!! We are trying to degrade, or lessen the performance criteria to see if we can incorporate this technology into standard building methods so that the price drops. How did you approach your work for the Extreme Textiles show? I was an adviser to the museum and the exhibition curator Matilda McQuaid, and I designed the installation. The show looks at materials from an architectural point of view, sorting them by their performance qualitiesslighter, stronger, et ceteraanot by their function. The installation wasn’t easy, because of the historical context of the Cooper-Hewitt museum building. None of the materials are decorative per se, but their visual quality is important in attracting people and showing how exciting they aree I wanted to use that as a lure. The materials are installed in a series of steel frames, because they are all at very different scales. The frame is meant to be a virtual one in which materials are suspended, and can be seen in the round, not just in a case. The frames are focusing devices. Otherwise, it would be like the World’s Fair!

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