Mind & Matter


Material Matters

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Sharp Centre for Design at OCAD, Toronto, designed by Will Alsop. Photo by Blaine Brownell.

On November 17, I traveled to Toronto to participate in an event entitled “Material Matters: New Smart Materials and Applications” held at the Ontario College of Art and Design. Lectures were given by Els Zijlstra, Creative Director and Founder of Materia, in Amsterdam, and Stephanie Forsythe, Principal and Co-Founder of Molo Studio in Vancouver. I also had the opportunity to lecture on material frontiers in design. Roderick Grant, Co-Chair and Assistant Professor of Graphic Design at OCAD, moderated an interesting discussion that followed.

The lecturers fielded challenging questions such as “Is it better to use smart materials to make dumb systems—or dumb materials to make smart systems?” and “How do we prepare today’s students for an uncertain future?” I took a stab at the latter question, suggesting that we first share the rules of convention and then show how to break the rules. I also recommended that we teach students how to recognize innovative practices in order to learn how to conjure innovative processes in their own work.

Materia and Molo Studio both provided a variety of intriguing material samples, such as bubble gum polymer, structural color textiles, luminous paper walls, and paint made from snail waste.

You can find more information about the event here.



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About the Blogger

Blaine Brownell

thumbnail image Minnesota-based architect and author Blaine Brownell, AIA, is a self-defined materials researcher and sustainable building adviser. His "Product of the Week" emails and three volumes of Transmaterial (2006, 2008, 2010) provide designers with a steady flow of inspiration—a 21st-century Grammar of Ornament. Blaine has practiced architecture in Japan and the U.S. and has been published in more than 40 design, business, and science publications. The recipient of a Fulbright fellowship for 2006–07, he researched contemporary Japanese material innovations at the Tokyo University of Science. He currently teaches architecture and co-directs the M.S. in Sustainable Design program at the University of Minnesota. His book Matter in the Floating World was published by Princeton Architectural Press in 2011.