What emerged from Milan Design Week 2016? Material innovation with a social purpose
Last week the Salone del Mobile 2016, or the Milan Design Week as we know it, came to an end. From April 12-17, 2016 the city—in its various precincts—displayed furniture, interactive installations, international craft and decor. Hundreds of thousands of visitors gorged on design from all over the world.
Two things happened when I found myself longingly following the exhibition from far away Texas.One was a determined resolution to be a first-hand participant in Milan Design Week of 2017 (#nomatterwhat). The other, was the perspective I gained from not having been there myself. I was not overwhelmed by hundreds of objects and installations. Instead, the distance allowed me to sift through information and media for countless creations at the exhibition and get to the heart of my interest –materials.
Thanks to design websites and blogs we know a great deal about the themes, style, form and even the materiality of objects at the fair; but there hasn’t been much coverage exclusively for the new materials that emerged from Milan or came into their own here. And there was no shortage of these.
An interesting thread connected a majority of these material innovations and new products. Young designers it seemed were more interested in responding to real world problems and serving the industry, than making beautiful objects for collectors. The director of the Design Academy Eindhoven, whose students are working extensively on material research projects, and have exhibited their work in Milan, called this a “paradigm shift.” You will find that most of the creations discussed below were created to serve a social need or to support sustainability.
Here is a narrative surrounding three material innovations that have shone through for me at Milan this year; In addition, I share two immersive exhibits at the fair I felt changed how we define the term ‘material’ and let us experience consumer brands in a way we never have done before.
1) Agar-Agar/Lexus Design Award Winner 2016 'Agar Plasticity'
USP: Biodegradable, Seaweed-derived, Moldable, and Lightweight.
Let’s start with my personal favorite, Agar-Agar. Or only Agar. This translucent jelly-like substance once belonged only in our favorite desserts, or as a vegan substitute for gelatin.Now, thanks to Japanese designer group Amam, who won the Lexus Design Award in Milan this year, Agar is stepping out of its shell. Agar Plasticity, the group's product and proposal show the use of Agar to create a packaging material that can replace plastic. Agar’s flaky but well-molded forms will encase goods for shipping; once used they will biodegrade readily, owing to their organic nature (Agar is derived from seaweed and algae). See images above and below.
Why I am drawn to this material: Agar stands out to me because it is a simple, organic solution to a large problem––disposing plastics. It's an attractive substitute that has the power to effect real change.
2) Jesmonite/Multiple Designers
USP: Lightweight, chameleon-like, myriad finishes and forms, spray-able.
Though the polymer composite Jesmonite was born in the UK in 1984, it is only now coming into its own. This year Dezeen Magazine named Jesmonite one of the top 10 design trends of Milan 2016 !
The material is often called the ‘chameleon’ of the construction and design industry and that holds true. Mixed with different resins, Jesmonite can appear identical, in color and texture, to materials like concrete, metal, and stone. What’s more, it is much lighter than any of these materials themselves and can even be sprayed on as a thin film to large surfaces. Jesmonite takes on the materiality of copper (an expensive, non-renewable material) in the table above, created by Design studio Pinch. See it mimic concrete in its entirety in the image below.
Why I am drawn to this material: Jesmonite offers a believable, lightweight way to replicate non-renewable or complex materials that will gradually become hard to acquire in the design world. The possibilities for this ‘chameleon’ of materials are endless.
3) Forest-Wool/Design Academy of Eindhoven
USP:Produced from timber waste, Research and student-driven
Tamara Orjola, a student at the Design Academy of Eindhoven has created paper and textile from pine needles. Pine needles are the largest waste from the timber industry and have found no application or use till now. Tamar exhibited Forest Wool or Pine Wool as part of an exhibition titled’ Envisions’ by DAE students this year. The exhibition showcased only raw materials in unique ways, foregoing finished products, unlike all other exhibits.
Why I am drawn to this material: Forest wool is waste-based. Developed through student materials research, it has the power to catalyze more student energy in this direction.
Two Groundbreaking Exhibits and Material Experiences
1) COS x Sou Fujimoto: Forest of Light
Why: Material created from No material.
Architect Sou Fujimoto created an immersive forest experience using only intersecting cones of light. Using light as a material, rather than building materials Fujimoto was still able to create a tangible material experience of a forest. As designers, this is interesting food for thought– generating materiality from light.
2) Pepsico: #MixitUp Exhibit
Why: An interactive, immersive display that allowed users to experience Pepsico’s new product innovations and brand attributes at a magnified scale.
Partnering with a team of designers, including Karim Rashid, Pepsi created an exhibit which allowed visitors to experience and interact with small objects and branding like never before. A new line of uniquely shaped Pepsi bottles was displayed within large blue sloping columns– magnifying the bottles themselves and allowing users to interact with them. See images below.
Similarly, Pepsi flavors and Emojis were magnified by creating areas devoted to alchemy and logos. All in all, it was a great way to captivate visitors and make small objects and concepts so significant and tangible.