Can a new Dutch exhibition opening today revive interest in the craft of making buildings?
First some background: American architects love Material ConneXion, the materials library and database that opened a Shanghai branch last month. But global design nomads have been wild about Amsterdam's sleek Materia Inspiration Centre, a venue launched last May and curated by architects.
The force behind the venue is Ann Maes, a designer and owner of AMD Abitare, and creator of Holland's Architects' Days.
The new exhibition promises to highlight some of the products and technologies influencing architects, and its all about craft -- the process of making. “Materia into Craftsmanship” runs from February 2 until May 29, so there's plenty of time to get there.
Cement fabric, magnetic production
Among the exhibited works is a stool made of PVC-backed, cement-impregnated fabric by Florian Schmid, known as Stitching Concrete. Fabrics, ceramics and transparent material works will also be on display, including a mysterious Turf (see image), and dozens of other works.
Craft isn't the only theme Maes is pursuing. Like Material ConneXion, the modus operandi for Materia is creating a global network of materials manufacturers.
In fact, internationalization -- in the guise of "World of Inspiration" -- was the theme of a small but influential trade fair held by the same group in late January.
Material Xperience 2012, the expo and conference was held January 25-27 in Rotterdam, showed off Materia's powerful network of associated companies and designers through a range of new products. Talks included Xavier de Kestelier, the modeling guru from Foster+Partners, 3xn Architects' innovation point-man Kasper Guldager Jorgensen, and the University of Minnesota's green maestro, Blaine Brownell.
Global product expo
Among the exhibiting companies was the main event sponsor CRH Clay Solutions. At first this company looks like a dull maker of brick and pavers, but has some novel things, such as Brickmate, a prefab panel system with a brick look over a thick, heavy precast panel.
Even better is the Beeksteen, created with Eindhoven University of Technology, a lightweight, durable brickface unit made with 35% less material than a typical brick and saving 35% of the CO2 produced. The narrower brick allows more insulation or just allows for more square footage -- about 1% more on a typical building, say the makers. (They use 35% less mortar, too.)
Another exhibitor at Material Xperience was Twentinox, manufacturer of flexible metallic fabrics and architectural metal woven mesh. The company's products are manufactured from recycled materials and are as durable and fire-resistant as one might imagine for a metal mesh. Some of the finer meshes have not been seen in the United States.
Playing with magnets
Other companies worth mentioning included Buchtal USA, part of Agrob Buchtal, with its ceramic tiles and panels including the “Play” product, with graphic arc in tiles that can be rotated to form various patterns.
Another innovative company is Strikolith, which displayed its Strikotherm concrete stuccoes and decorative and reinforcing materials. The natural, authentic looking stuccos can be formed on insulation panels, bathrooms and even curved walls. A lumpy wall on an Amsterdam hotel shows off the effects.
More architects will be using MagPaint's magnetic paints and blackboard paints -- and, yes, magnetic chalk-ready blackboard paints -- on schools, offices and even home projects. MagPaint’s blackboard paint is a water-based finish for boards made of wood or metal, or surfaces that have been treated with the company's MagnetPaint first.
But no one has more fun with magnets than Dutch designer Jólan van der Wiel, who creates stools using magnetic fields and the force of gravity. The product and the process were both on display, thanks to Materia's relentless focus on amazing new architecture and design ideas.