Mutant Materials in Contemporary Design


When compared to plastics, ceramics, and glass, metals appear to have undergone little change in recent years. But as engineers have demonstrated in developing advanced technologies like superplastic steel and aluminum alloys that can be stretched to ten times their original length, the traditional characteristics of metals can be mutated. Although developments in metal elasticity have not yet been applied to the production of everyday objects, experiments with another property--shape memory--have had far-reaching effects. Shape-memory alloys in tubular, linear, and sheet form have been widely utilized in eyeglass frames, bookends, pens, and many other household items.

The exhibition documents the innovative use of traditional metal technologies, such as hot-rolling, extrusion, and die- and sand-casting. Steel is shown in all its possible configurations, poured to create sturdy padlocks and golf-iron heads or rolled into extremely thin sheets for an inventive lampshade or a beautiful office table folded into an origami-style construction. Extruded aluminum has become increasingly complex and articulated, while cast recycled aluminum is now used as a precious alloy in jewel boxes and tableware.

Titanium has become a particularly popular metal because of its lightness, elasticity, and easy machinability. The exhibition shows its structural use in frames for human-powered vehicles, wheelchairs, and bicycle cogs. Magnesium, thanks to its insulating qualities and easy machinability, has also found many new applications, including computer shielding plates and extruded profiles.

Although the status of metals has been threatened by ceramics (in engine parts and cutting blades), composites (in vessels from aircraft to boats), and plastics (in smaller structures like chairs), their mutable character guarantees their continued presence.

Parallel Design Partnership
Ali Tayar. Turkish, b. 1959
"Ellen's Brackets" Shelving System Brackets. 1993 (1993)
Extruded aluminum and stainless steel
Manufactured by Parallel Design Partnership, United States
Lent by Ali Tayar, New York
(photos courtesy Ali Tayar)

Alberto Meda. Italian, b. 1945
"Long Frame" Chaise Longue. 1995 (1994)
Extruded and die-cast aluminum frame and PVC-coated polyester net
Manufactured by Alias S.r.l., Italy
Lent by Alias S.r.l., Grumello del Monte, Italy
(photo courtesy Alias)

The Dow Chemical Company
Extruded Magnesium Profiles. 1987 (1987)
Manufactured by The Dow Chemical Company, United States
Lent by The Dow Chemical Company,
Midland, Mich.
(photo courtesy The Dow Chemical Company)

Bruce T. Boone. American, b. 1962
Bicycle Cogs. 1994 (1993)
CNC-milled titanium
Manufactured by Boone Technologies, Inc., United States
Lent by Boone Technologies, Inc.,
Kennesaw, Ga.

Kyoto Design Center
Kaori Mano. Japanese, b. 1952
"HSW 501" Thermos Briefcase Vacuum Bottle. 1990 (1989)
High-vacuum-formed stainless steel and polypropylene
Manufactured by Nippon Sanso Corporation, Japan
Lent by The Thermos Co., Shamburg, Ill.

Jean Nouvel. French, b. 1945
"Less" Table. 1994 (1994)
Pultruded and welded steel
Manufactured by Unifor S.p.a., Italy
Lent by Unifor, Inc., New York

Sebastian Bergne. British, b. 1966
"Lamp Shade 1" Lighting Fixture.
1992 (1991)
Acid-etched stainless steel
Manufactured by Radius GmbH, Germany
Lent by Sebastian Bergne, London
(photo courtesy Sebastian Bergne)

Sebastian Bergne. British, b. 1966
"Spira" Ballpoint Pen. 1993 (1988)
Stainless-steel automatic spring and injection-molded nylon
Manufactured by Ventura design on time S.A., Switzerland
Lent by Sebastian Bergne, London
(photo courtesy Sebastian Bergne)

Dissing+Weitling Architects
Poul-Jorn Lindberg. Danish
"AIR Titanium" Eyeglass Frames. 1988 (1985)
Titanium wire and medical-silicone pads
Manufactured by Lindberg Optic Design, Denmark
Lent by Lindberg Optic Design, Aabyhøj, Denmark
(photo courtesy Lindberg Optic Design)

Syn S.r.l.
Giorgio Gurioli. Italian, b. 1957
Francesco Scansetti. Italian, b. 1955
"Tra" Bookends. 1992 (1991)
Nickel-plated steel and injection-molded elastomer
Manufactured by Syn S.r.l., Italy
Lent by Syn S.r.l., Milan
(photo Donato Di Bello, courtesy Syn)

Kazuo Kawasaki. Japanese, b. 1949
"Anti-Gravity Support" Eyeglass Frame. 1994 (1994)
Welded shape-memory titanium alloy and polyester elastomer
Manufactured by Masunaga Optical Mfg. Co., Japan
Lent by Kazuo Kawasaki, Fukui, Japan
(photo courtesy Kazuo Kawasaki)

Per Jari of Pacesetter AB. Swedish, b. 1951
Jan Ohrn of Utvecklingsdesign.
Swedish, b. 1943
"Multilog 2040" Pacemaker. 1991 (1988)
Titanium and epoxy resin
Manufactured by Pacesetter AB, Sweden
Lent by Pacesetter AB, Solna, Sweden

Seiko Epson Corporation Design Center EMRoS Team
"Monsieur" Micro Robot System. 1993 (1993)
"Nino" Micro Robot System. 1995 (1994)
Sterling-silver shells and other materials
Manufactured by Seiko Epson Corporation, Japan
Lent by Seiko Epson Corporation, Nagano, Japan

Eukutaro Takahashi. Japanese, b. 1924
"New Cosmos Series #203" Scissors. 1985 (1982)
Lost-wax-process cast stainless-steel and molybdenum alloy
Manufactured by Hikari Products, Inc., United States
Lent by Hikari Products, Inc., Gardena, Calif.

Todd Wood. Canadian, b. Great Britain 1969
Allen Simpson. Canadian, b. Great Britain 1952
"Plus-Four" Garden Tools. 1992 (1992)
Die-cast recycled aluminum
Manufactured by Allen Simpson Marketing & Design, Ltd., Canada
Lent by Allen Simpson, Ontario
(photo by Allen Simpson, Ontario)

Hisanori Masuda. Japanese, b. 1949
"Iquom" Tableware Collection. 1990-92 (1990-92)
"Daen" Plate. 1990 (1990)
"Shizuku" Plate. 1991 (1991)
"Egg" Jewel Box. 1992 (1992)
"Oval" Jewel Box. 1992 (1992)
"Shell" Vase. 1992 (1992)
"Shizuku" Vase. 1992 (1992)
Sand-cast recycled aluminum
Manufactured by Kikuchi Hojudo, Inc., Japan
Lent by Kikuchi Hojudo, Inc., Yamagata, Japan
(photos courtesy Hisanori Masuda)

Designer Hisanori Masuda was exposed to the rich, centuries-old tradition of the metal crafts in
Yamagata Prefecture, where he lives and works. In this highly refined collection of tableware he has
manipulated a mutable material perhaps to its zen ith, achieving the appearance of quicksilver by
sand-casting reprocessed aluminum.

Karim Rashid and Lesley Maia Horowitz
"Flume" Vases. 1994 (1994)

Karim Rashid "Flare" Candlesticks. 1994 (1993)
Sand-cast metal alloy
Manufactured by Nambe Mills, Inc., United States
Lent by Nambe Mills, Inc., Santa Fe, N.M.

FM Design
Richard Miles. British, b. 1949
John Tree. British, b. 1969
Padlocks. 1993 (1992)
CNC-milled EN32C steel bodies and hardened-steel shackles and rollers
Manufactured by Yale Security Products, Ltd., Great Britain
The Museum of Modern Art, New York, gift of the manufacturer
(photo courtesy FM Design)

Callaway Golf Research and Development
"Big Bertha" No. 5 Golf Iron. 1994 (1991)
Stainless-steel head and RCH 90 filament-wound graphite shaft
Manufactured by Callaway Golf, United States
Lent by Callaway Golf, Carlsbad, Calif.
(photo courtesy Callaway Golf)

Water Studio Co.
"O-Product" Camera. 1988 (1987)
Aluminum, steel, and other materials
Manufactured by Olympus Optical Co., Ltd., Japan
Lent by Vincent Marino, Olympus America, Inc., Woodbury, N.Y.

GVO, Inc.
Jay Wilson. American, b. 1941
Ted Bryant. American, b. 1959
"ThetaScan" Autocollimator (Laser Measuring Instrument). (1992)
Stainless steel and RPM (rubber-plaster-mold) aluminum
Lent by GVO, Inc., Palo Alto
(photos by Kelley King, Santa Ana, Calif., courtesy GVO)

Paolo Rizzatto. Italian, b. 1941
Alberto Meda. Italian, b. 1945
"Berenice" Lighting Fixture. 1985 (1984)
Stainless steel, aluminum, Rynite thermoplastic, neoprene, glass-filled polyester,
silicone rubber, borosilicate glass, and ceramics
Manufactured by Luceplan S.p.a., Italy
Lent by Luceplan USA, New York
(photos courtesy Paolo Rizzatto)

Michael Burrows. British, b. 1943
"Windcheetah T.I." HPV (Human-Powered Vehicle). 1995 (1992)
Hand-cast titanium lugs bonded to aluminum tubes and Kevlar-carbon seat
Manufactured by The Seat of the Pants Co., Ltd., Great Britain
Lent by The Seat of the Pants Co., Ltd., Cheshire, Great Britain
(photo courtesy The Seat of the Pants)

Kazuo Kawasaki. Japanese, b. 1949
"Carna" Folding Wheelchair. 1991 (1989)
Titanium frame, rubber seat and tires, aluminum-honeycomb-core wheels, and other materials
Manufactured by SIG Workshop Co., Ltd., Japan
The Museum of Modern Art, gift of the designer
(photos by Mitsumasa Fujitsuka, Tokyo, courtesy Kazuo Kawasaki)

The light, stylish "Carna" folding wheelchair weighs only 13 lbs. (5.9 kg). It features a titanium frame for lightness, oversized wheels similar to those on racing chairs for stability, and a separate foldaway seat-and-back unit for portability. The disk wheels are built of aluminum with a honeycomb core, and the push-rims of 1 in. (2.6 cm) titanium pipe. The seat and back are fitted with either urethane or air-inflated mats.

Fibers and Composites
Rubber and Foam
Other Materials


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©1995 The Museum of Modern Art, New York