Mutant Materials in Contemporary Design

Other Materials

The ideal contemporary material--neutral, all-encompassing, versatile, economical, recyclable, easy to machine, cheap, resistant, perhaps even intelligent--may fit most appropriately into the category of "miscellaneous." While only a few of the objects in the exhibition could be described as having intelligence, many of the materials in this section come close: salt and pepper shakers made from rice slurry, light concrete tiles that swallow urban waste and transform it into decoration, packing materials made from starch, a clock made from paper and a few staples, and switches made of unexpected couplings of materials.

Like the other objects in this exhibition, these miscellaneous items have been chosen to highlight the logical beauty and experimental quality that are the basis of all good contemporary design.

Constantin Boym. American, b. Russia 1955
"Staple" Clock. 1993 (1992)
Coated cardstock, metal staples, and other materials
Manufactured by Elika, United States
Lent by Constantin Boym, New York
(photo courtesy Constantin Boym)

David Hertz. American, b. 1960
"Syndecrete." 1984 (1984)
Cement-based composite of recycled materials
Manufactured by Syndesis, Inc., United States
Lent by Syndesis, Inc., Santa Monica
(photo Smith & Hawkins, courtesy David Hertz)

IDEO Product Development
"Switch Exploration" Collection. (1994)
Working prototypes by:

Tim Brown. British, b. 1962
Birch, upholstery foam, and satin

Naoto Fukasawa. Japanese, b. 1956

Phil Grebe. American, b. 1956
ABS and electroluminescent panel

Sam Hecht. British, b. 1969
Anodized aluminum and rubberized Lycra

Rick Lewis. American, b. 1961

Ian McColl. American, b. 1962
Acrylic, rope, and electroluminescent panel

Matt Rohrbach. American, b. 1970
1: Bird's-eye maple and electroluminescent panel
2: Stainless steel and electroluminescent panel

Chris Stringer. British, b. 1965
1: ABS, polyurethane, and aluminum
2: Silicone rubber, aluminum, and ABS

Joe Tan. Indonesian, b. 1971
ABS and conductive cloth

Wolfgang Wagner. German
Synthetic rubber and fake fur
Lent by IDEO Product Development, San Francisco
(photos courtesy IDEO Product Development)

These working prototypes are the result of a design exercise by the staff of IDEO. With no immediate production goal or client, the twelve designers used a wide range of materials to achieve their ideal light switches. Sam Hecht's prototype is built aroun d an aluminum knob that, when pulled, agitates the surrounding rubberized-Lycra membrane in circular waves. In Phil Grebe's model, contact is made by sliding the circular disk to one side, revealing an electroluminescent panel. Designed without the constr aints of a commercial enterprise, the switches illustrate the optimal, and poetic, application of mutant materials.

National Starch and Chemical Co.
Paul Alteieri. American, b. 1961
Norman Lacurse. American, b. 1957
"Eco-Foam" Loose Fill. 1990 (1989)
Extruded hybrid cornstarch
Manufactured by American Excelsior Co., United States
Lent by National Starch and Chemical Co., Bridgewater, N.J.

Takeshi Ishiguro. Japanese, b. 1969
"Rice" Salt and Pepper Shakers. (1994)
Extruded, slip-cast, and molded rice slurry
Lent by Takeshi Ishiguro, Tokyo

Although foodstuffs are not commonly thought of as materials suited to product design, many of the foods we eat are in fact the products of design, composed in recipes. Japanese food is perhaps the most consciously designed, and it seems a logical extensi on of this concept for designer Takeshi Ishiguro to choose rice slurry, the basis of Japanese cuisine and a highly mutable material, as the material for his ingenious salt and pepper shakers. The process used to manufacture the shakers is the same as that used to form pasta: extrusion. And they are of course biodegradable.

Toppan Printing Co., Ltd.
Takefumi Ideue. Japanese, b. 1953
"T.J./Delacroix." 1989 (1989)
Gravure-printed PVC (polyvinylcellulose) and super-matte paper
"T.J./Nostalgia." 1989 (1989)
Gravure-printed PVC and super-matte paper
"Light Shade Hickory." 1990 (1990)
Gravure-printed paper with raised ink
"Nancy Cloth." 1989 (1989)
Gravure-printed paper and PVC with raised ink
"Block Mat." 1989 (1989)
Gravure-printed paper and PVC with raised ink

Ichiro Saito. Japanese, b. 1938
"Washi." 1990 (1990)
Handmade paper
Manufactured by Toppan Printing Co., Ltd., Japan
Lent by Toppan Interamerica, Inc., McDonough, Ga.

Toppan Printing Co., Ltd.
Takeshi Umezaki. Japanese, b. 1956
"Patina Line." 1989 (1989)
Embossed and printed PVC
Manufactured by Toppan Printing Co., Ltd., Japan
Lent by Toppan Interamerica, Inc., McDonough, Ga.

Yasuo Yoshihashi. Japanese, b. 1945
"Urushi." 1988 (1988)
Laminated PVC and other materials
Manufactured by Shin-Etsu Polymer Co., Ltd., Japan
Lent by Toppan Interamerica, Inc., McDonough, Ga.

Fibers and Composites
Rubber and Foam


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