Book Review: Made Of…

Gestalten is a Berlin-based publisher known for its visually oriented books on architecture, urbanism and design. Made of… New Materials Sourcebook for Architecture and Design, written by architect Christiane Sauer, is such a publication. Whereas new materials and innovations in architecture and design are practically always presented by boring corporate brochures, this book takes another approach — it focuses on the practical side and presents fresh concepts and designs that already made use of new innovations. That makes Made of… also appealing to people without a Master’s degree in Architecture or Building Engineering. Besides that, the publication is a window of opportunity for the people who want to stay ahead of current and future innovations in the fields of architecture, design and building. Or, as Gestalten explains, for the ones who who would like to expand their design palettes with further cutting-edge possibilities, or who can use an overview of current developments in this area.

Today’s innovative architecture would be inconceivable and unbuildable without the rapid development of new building materials and technologies. Against this background Made of… not only presents unconventional approaches to the use of materials in architecture and design, but also describes the current state of research and rediscovered technologies. The book is an inspirational reference for everyone who is looking for a specific material, who would like to expand their design palettes with further cutting-edge possibilities, or who can use an overview of current developments in this area. The book’s five chapters show possibilities for using new building materials for sophisticated building concepts in practical themes – structurally efficient building materials, free form or ornamental surfaces, protective building layers, energy generating and luminous surfaces, renewable and recycled resources, et cetera. Furthermore, it provides in-depth explanations of relevant technologies and applications including technical details.

Made of… is comprised of five chapters. Chapter 1, ‘Light and Strong’, deals with innovations such as fibers and foams, and builds upon Buckminster Fuller’s question how much a building should actually weigh. It provides insight in different light-weight materials and shows a range of really flexible architectural designs and soluti0ns. One example is the inspiring cardboard office environment for Amsterdam-based creative agency Nothing, designed by Joost van Bleiswijk and Alrik Koudenburg (who spoke at our PechaKucha Night Amsterdam in July, 2009). Using CNC technology, 500 square meters of low-cost cardboard honeycomb with a thickness of 15 mm were cut into 1,500 parts and fitted together like a 3D miniature model. (Bonus: click here for more cardboard architecture.)

Chapter 2 is entitled ‘Material Follows Form’ and elaborates on new technological innovations in processing materials that are making it possible to manifacture increasingly complex shapes. Computer-based planning and design tools (‘Computer-Aided Design’ (CAD)) and production technology (‘Computer-Aided Manufacturing’ (CAM)) have unleashed a revolution in generating architectural forms and shapes you would not have thought of before. One of the projects featured here is the Radiolara pavilion that was printed with a gigantic 3D printer. The building, which was designed by London-based architect Andrea Morgante, shows the potential of the 3D printing machine, for instance its ability to easily create complex structures.

The third chapter of Made of…, ‘Coats and Covers’, presents a new perspective on façades, re-framing these as flexible and responsive coats worn by buildings. Proclaims Sauer, “as complex materials such as translucent insulation, heat-storing glazing, and even self-darkening façade elements become available, new design possibilities are opening up”. A great project featured here is Shigeru Ban’s Curtain Wall House in Tokyo, a building with a curtain as façade reflecting on the Japanese tradition of light. “Mies invented the glass curtain wall, but I just used a curtain”, Ban explained.

Chapter 4 is entitled ‘Powered Surfaces’ and regards innovations and materials in architecture that are moving the entire practice towards a sustainable future. Think of the revolution of energy-generating façades, or new technologies (LED for instance) that are able to make energy-consuming building elements, such as lighting, extremely efficient. A very interesting development within this larger theme is the production of glass fibers that have proved to be excellent light transmitters. Embedding these into solid building materials such as concrete had resulted into very interesting effects, for instance these light-transmitting bricks. Another project that grabbed my attention was the Thermochromic Wallpaper by Berlin-based designer Elisa Strozyk. She used thermochromic technology for the production of a radiator that responds to the heat by changing color, and thereby transforms into a decorative interior design element.

The fifth and last chapter is entitled ‘Re-Materialization’. It highlights another wave within the sustainability trend — re-cycling, re-use, re-grown. Rapid technological innovations have opened up new possibilities for used building materials. It has never been easier to turn waste into something new, and over the last years we bumped into many new buildings and designs that are based on principles such as ‘cradle to cradle’. It features projects such as the Miele Space Station, a flexible cafe, restaurant, office and shop that was made from disused washing machines. Unfortunately this creation by 2012 Architecten was burned down with the big fire at Delft’s Technical University in 2008. However, recently they built a new pop-up space station using material taken from The Hague’s Black Madonna building.

Made of… is a great book that fits very well with the style of other Gestalten publications. It is a nice book that is not only relevant to professionals in the fields of architecture and design, but also appeals to a broader audience, due to its clear structure and the visual and practical way new building techniques and materials are presented. Architects will be very interested in the glossaries that explain every material mentioned in the book, but Made of… is also an inspiring guide to a wide range of highly innovative buildings, designs and concepts that are heralds for the future.

Made of… New Materials Sourcebook for Architecture and Design
Christiane Sauer
Gestalten, Berlin
240 pages, full color, hardcover
24 x 30 cm
ISBN: 978-3-89955-289-8

Made of… can be ordered on Amazon or on the Gestalten website.

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