Material World

Know your biomimicry and Nawaro foam? Feel confident about Corian and corn-weave? If not, the Materials Kitchen is the right place to catch up on the latest trends in materials, says Annabelle Filer

AUTHOR, designer and materials expert Chris Lefteri is set to cook up a storm with this year’s installation at 100% Materials. Lefteri has, for the past three years, created one of the show’s highlights – a display of samples that represents a cross-section of the widespread innovation in materials. This year, the veritable feast of more than 200 materials Lefteri is curating has gone up a gear, taking the form of an interactive presence to promote debate about materials and their possible uses.

Lefteri’s inspiration came from cooking and creating with food, and the analogy with using and combining materials led him to devise the Materials Kitchen. One section, the materials wall, rather like a larder, will display some of the latest choices. It will offer more information to the visitor, including each material’s ‘ingredients’, and some suggestions for combining them.

Seminars and discussions will take place around the Kitchen Table. Lefteri hopes visitors will thus gain a greater understanding of materials, while the idea of sitting round a table for dinner should breed more informality and greater discussion than a seminar theatre. Appearances at the Kitchen Table include Manel Torres, who has produced Fabrican, a fabric that is sprayed from a can, and Professor John Cave of Middlesex University, who will give a talk on ‘weird materials’.

Visitors can write questions on a piece of paper to be distributed to the appropriate expert for an answer. Rather than a simple postbox, the paper slips are then attached with magnets to a magnetic ceramic that will grow into a chandelier form as questions are added, the papers imitating the crystal drops.

This is designed to remind people that there is a human element to the installation, and some interesting issues underpin the project. Materials are undergoing a stealth-like change, which is of considerable importance to architects and designers. Although some materials may have no particularly memorable aesthetic, hidden properties can have fundamental effects. For example, the innovative surface composition of self-cleaning glass can be beneficial to the environment. Internal composition gives other materials additional uses beyond their surface finish; examples include magnetic plaster.

So why pay attention to materials? There is a growing awareness of their properties and advantages, and the more experience-led consumer and professional will begin to understand and embrace these exceptional, albeit unexceptional-looking materials. As certain materials become desirable, they offer brand values in themselves. Take the number of designers experimenting with Corian to make furniture, or look at golf clubs made with carbon fibre, which gain a cachet simply because carbon fibre has a reputation as a hitech, sleek, lightweight, expensive material.

This year’s installation is a place to stop, absorb and consider the impact the samples of materials will have on the world of design. A current trend in furniture and interiors is to use burnt or branded wood. Nature has presented us with familiar materials as diverse as wood, ceramic, glass and lava stone, but a more unusual fibre optic created from rock will also be on display. Other trends to look out for are biomimicry (the study and imitation of nature) and geomimicry (the study and imitation of geology), which will be presented alongside smart technologies.

However, sustainability will be centre of the debate – the quest to find indigenous materials on your doorstep and cut down on transport miles. Sustainable materials continue to grow in importance, and their future looks certain to extend beyond developments in nanotechnology to a reversion to using materials from natural sources.

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