Design Laboratory: Materials and Technology
Museum für Gestaltung Zürich, Zurich
June, 28 – September 06, 2020
Materiality is back in the spotlight. The exhibition Design Laboratory: Materials and Technology at the Museum für Gestaltung Zürich presents examples of the range of issues that designers and materials researchers are currently engaging with.
Materials research has become a key discipline in the 21st century. Material abundance and the search for alternative materials represent a challenge for society. At the same time, materials must meet ever greater technological requirements, while also becoming lighter and smaller. Research is aimed at achieving optimal properties and performance. This has opened up exciting new frontiers for designers. In teams with researchers in chemistry, physics, and biology, they are exploring new possibilities for the future and putting creative solutions into practice. After all, questions about materials and new technological processes have long been central drivers in the development of innovative products.
The Design Laboratory is presenting 29 contemporary and in some cases recently realized projects – a small selection of the enormous variety of innovations in the field. They range from renewable materials (mushrooms, bacteria) to high-tech materials (ceramic-coated textiles, rapid-hardening concrete). Experiments with traditional materials such as clay and knitting yarn are juxtaposed with visions of materials whose properties remain to be explored. Could self-foaming soap be used in medicine? The material innovations in the exhibition take two directions: On the one hand, there are projects that emphasize sustainability and take the entire life cycle into account. Other approaches focus on making materials and processes more capable with new technologies.
Modernism in the early 20th century sought to make the best use of contemporary materials. Wood bent using hot steam for chairs, Bakelite telephone receivers as harbingers of plastic, aluminum as a material that is simultaneously hard, light, and malleable: at the beginning of the exhibition, a showcase brings together design pieces from the museum’s collections, which tell stories about materials. Some of the exhibits show connections to the present. The example of the development of milk packaging demonstrates how materials, functionality, and design have contributed to each other to meet the needs of users.
Another part of the exhibition shows selected case studies that illustrate the focus of design on sustainability and the entire life cycle of a material. After all, composite materials and materials based on petroleum are becoming increasingly common. This creates problems for the environment and health. Products that are permanently glued together without rivets or screws or that are made of plastic end up in the garbage at the end of their useful life. New approaches and the use of more sustainable materials and manufacturing processes have now also become common in business. Now people often take a cyclical view of materials. The exhibition presents design using waste materials (from egg and meat production), textiles made from banana fibers, and shoes made from mushroom spores, which in the future could be grown on the trip to Mars.
Another focus of the exhibition is on approaches in which new technologies make materials and processes more efficient. Today materials and technology are more closely linked than ever before. An example of this is digital manufacturing processes, which are steadily advancing into new areas of application. What sounded like science fiction just a few years ago has become commonplace: it is no longer just prototypes, one-off pieces, and models that are manufactured using computer-controlled and robotic techniques, but entire full-scale architectural elements. A major advantage of digital manufacturing processes is the potential to use materials more economically.
At the center of the Design Laboratory is the spacious hands-on area. Here visitors can design things themselves in the open workshop. The growing collection of objects offers the chance to experience materials through one’s own senses. Visitors are invited to contribute their own interesting samples of materials. The education program includes workshops and opportunities to interact with materials experts and design professionals.