Material technology advancement and innovation may very well encourage and accelerate the speed of which entire cities are engineered and towns constructed while more land, materials and resources are used in the process. In humanity’s search for an answer to resolve the environmental crisis, is it still smart to focus on innovation while our planet is suffering partly because of it? Which comes to where the topic was previously left off, “is material technology even necessary?”, which was a trick question, because advancement is technically inevitable. But do not worry, the direction of innovation has shown itself to have shifted towards a movement for the environment rather than taking from it.
“Rather than a fixed catalog of products, one sees a constantly shifting array of materials, which offer continual improvements upon known standards or render those standards obsolete” (Brownell, 2006, p.6).
According to Uppal (2012), advancement in science and technology is necessary to propel the living standard of people. While the traditional approach of material creation has served humanity well, it seems to be approaching some fundamental limits when it comes to the aspect of construction, which is where chemistry-based approaches to the creation of materials come in, whereby “exact atomic and molecular infrastructures” have become more feasible (Leydecker, 2008).
And what do you mean by “exact atomic and molecular infrastructures”? What exactly are these new materials, you ask?
Before I answer you, I would like to mention the motivations behind material advancement and why we need it, which can be separated into two general categories: environmentally conscious and aesthetics. Besides mentioning the previous stated accelerated pace of advancement, Brownell (2006, p.7) also mentioned the current awareness of “the earth’s dwindling raw materials, diminishing fossil fuels, and the problems associated with industrial waste” and how, because of this awareness, new products are therefore based on using less raw materials and energy by repurposing existing materials or created with materials which are less toxic to the environment. The latter motivation however, pretty much explains itself, which represents society’s growing desire to bring art into life, as can be seen with “the proliferation of translucent composite materials” often used to “impart a luminous, enigmatic quality” to the surrounding (Brownell, 2006, p. 7).
Now, down to business. In Brownell’s book Transmaterial: A Catalog of Materials that Redefine our Physical Environment (2006), she explains that with different themes which might be shared among dissimilar products, that she has categorised materials into seven broad classifications. Of these categories include ultraperforming materials, which are stronger, lighter, more durable and more flexible than conventional counterparts, in a movement striving towards greater exposure yet also ephemerality. Next up we have multidimensional materials, where products are no longer conceived as “a collection of flat planes that define space and function”, which also allows for thin materials to be more structurally stable. Moving on to repurposed materials, which are basically materials used in the place of others that are conventionally used in an application, not only being environmentally friendly in way of raw material preservation and waste management, but also repurposed in the sense of functionality, for example furniture with more than one usage.
Further down the list of categories we have recombinant materials that consist of two or more different materials that create a product with greater performance by acting in harmony. Following that would be transformational materials which are characterised by the process of undergoing physical metamorphosis based on environmental stimuli, whether based on properties of the material or driven by the user. Moreover we have interfacial materials, which facilitate the interaction between the physical and virtual world that may be virtual instruments made to control material manufacture or physical manifestations of digital fabrications. Last but not least, we have intelligent or smart materials, which is an umbrella term for materials that improve their environment, either actively or passively, and often are products of inspiration from biological systems. Most smart materials maybe also be known as adaptive materials due to their property to adjust themselves to the surrounding and its stimuli (Ritter, 2007). Materials in this category also indicate R&D’s (research and development) growing focus on manipulation at the microscopic scale.
Ritter (2007) stated that, “we are standing on the threshold of the next generation of buildings”, through intelligent use of functionally adaptive materials, various degrees of ecological high technology such as products and constructions are able to interact with their direct or indirect surroundings and adjust themselves to suit. As materials take up energy and matter, affecting the flow of its surrounding, it can be optimised through the usage of smart materials (Ritter. 2007).
With this, I would like to conclude that material advancement is undoubtedly necessary, not only for human comfort but for the wellness of the environment, and will most likely assist and lead us into the ever innovative future, and that hopefully I have convinced you, my reader, of this truth.
Brownell, B., ed. (2006), Transmaterial, New York: Princeton Architectural Press, p. 6-11.
Leydeker,S. (2008), Nano Materials: in Architecture, Interior Architecture and Design, Germany: Birkhauser, p.8-11.
Ritter, A. (2007), Smart Materials in Architecture, Interior Architecture and Design, Berlin: Birkhauser, p.7-9.
Uppal, S.M. (2012), ‘The Key to Scientific Advancement’, JAGST 14(1), p.1-2.