The Astute Architect

Dutch materials feast for architects

Dutch materials feast for architects

Posting in Architecture

Columnist C.C. Sullivan drops in on Material Xperience 2012 in Rotterdam to discover new materials and design ideas that could change how architects work.

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.

Inside the Materia Inspiration Centre

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.

Cement-impregnated canvas stools, by Florian Schmid.

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

Lightweight Becksteen bricks, from CRH Clay Solutions

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.)

A novel interior mesh by Twentinox.

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.

Strikolith stucco on an interesting Amsterdam hotel.

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.

Jolan van der Wiel's stool, and the machine that made it (photo below)).

The gravity stool magnetic fields machine.

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C.C. Sullivan

Columnist (Architecture)

C.C. Sullivan is principal of a marketing and advertising agency by the same name focused on the shelter, construction and architectural markets. Formerly, he was chief editor of the magazines Architecture and Building Design & Construction, and launched the Home of the Year awards with Metropolitan Home. He holds a degree from Yale University and previously worked for the architects Tai Soo Kim, Emery Roth & Sons, and Angel Fernandez Alba (Madrid). Follow him on Twitter. Disclosure