Mutant Materials in Contemporary Design


The fabulously prolific family of plastics is represented in the show by dozens of different objects, ranging from chairs to minuscule telephones, manufactured using a variety of techniques. Some of the most archaic processes, such as compression molding, are particularly suitable for objects made with recycled polymers. More sophisticated technologies, such as injection-molding--in which granules of raw material are conditioned by heat and pressure to reach a fluid state and then injected into a steel mold--are now frequently employed for the common polymers polystyrene, high-density polyethylene, polypropylene, and ABS. The techniques of calendering and extrusion are continuous processes in which the mold is an open-ended channel, while in blow or rotational molding plastic is subjected to centrifugal pressure that forces it to adhere to the mold walls.

Plastics were invented in the last century, and until the middle of this century they were used only to imitate natural materials. Since that time, technology has brought polymers to a very sophisticated level of formal and structural evolution. Today's plastics are sturdy, resistant, and beautiful. They can take on many shapes, from the most straightforward to the most articulated. No form is absolute: mutant plastics can resemble translucent and transparent glass, they can be molded to match the organic shapes of parts of our body, they can be treated to look like folded, articulated plans, and they can be detailed into small, complex objects like computer mouses.

Plastics can be liquefied to embrace their past lives as well as other materials, like the shredded fabrics used in Gaetano Pesce's armchairs and stools or the wood dust and particles used in the EnviroSafe plastic compounds. They can be fully recycled and their scars used as aesthetic improvements, as in, for example, the Plaky table. Polymers are the best symbol of our present, a fluid synthesis of complexity.

Bob Evans. American, b. 1950
"Tan Delta Force Fin" Diving Fins. 1994 (1994)
Liquid-cast heat-cured Uniroyal flexible polyurethane
Manufactured by Bob Evans Designs, Inc., United States
Lent by Bob Evans Designs, Inc., Santa Barbara, Calif.
(photo by Bob Evans)

The "Force Fin" is an example of highly efficient water-sports equipment as well as a poetic design statement. The innovative design was first conceived a decade ago by Bob Evans, an underwater photographer who derived it from observing the form and behavior of fish fins. As a result, the fins have the kind of economy of purpose found in nature. As his material, Evans chose liquid polyurethane resin for its elastic properties, or "memory." The integral design harnesses the dynamic power of the human body: as a swimmer kicks down, the blade opens up to take advantage of the full thrust, garnering the leg muscles as a force against the water and propelling the swimmer forward. In the downstroke, the blade assumes its original shape, propelling the swimmer forward again while assisting the upward recovery posture of a swimmer's natural two-stroke kicking rhythm. During recovery, the tip of the fin folds downward, channeling the water flow behind it and easing the upward movement of the blade, thus anticipating the leg motion in the next sequential downward thrust. The dynamically engineered design was realized through the use of a composite mold for casting polyurethane. This composite tooling, a recent and more flexible alternative to costly metal molds, offers wide-ranging possibilities for product design.

Laura Handler. American, b. 1954
Dennis Decker. American, b. 1954
Amanda Honig Magalhaes. American, b. 1968
"Gallery Glass" Goblets. 1993 (1992)
Die-cast, ultrasonic-sealed acrylic resin
Manufactured by Metrokane, Inc., United States
Lent by Metrokane, Inc., New York
(photo by Tony Curatolla, courtesy Metrokane, Inc.)

Bausch & Lomb Product Development
"Killer Loop Xtreme Pro" Sunglasses. 1994 (1994)
DiamondHard (amorphous-diamond) coating
on die-cast polycarbonate lenses and Megol elastomer
Manufactured by Bausch & Lomb, Inc., United States
Lent by Bausch & Lomb, Inc., Rochester, N.Y.
(photo courtesy Bausch & Lomb)

Mazda Motor Corporation
"MX5 Miata" Automobile Taillights. 1988 (1983)
Double-shot injection-molded acrylic-resin lens,
injection-molded polypropylene reflector, and other materials
Manufactured by Mazda Motor Corporation, Japan
Lent by Mazda Motor Corporation, Irvine, Calif.
(photos by Brian Stanton, Croton-on-Hudson, courtesy Mazda)

Yoshiyuki Kondo of Kondo Eye Institute. Japanese, b. 1955
Tsutomu Sunada of IOL Division, Nidek Co., Ltd. Japanese, b. 1963
Yuji Tsuchikawa of IOL Division, Nidek Co., Ltd. Japanese, b. 1949
One-piece Posterior Chamber Lens with UV-absorbing NR-84K Lens
Perspex PMMA (polymethyl-methacrylate)
Manufactured by Nidek Co., Ltd., Japan
Lent by Nidek Co., Ltd., Aichi, Japan

Renate Eilert. German, b. 1964
"Bzzuno" Syringe. (1990)
Injection-molded polypropylene housing, stainless-steel needle, and rubber piston ring
Prototype by Neste Oy, Finland, and Renate Eilert Design, France
Lent by Renate Eilert, Vallans, France
(photo courtesy Renate Eilert)

Authentics artipresent GmbH
Hans Maier-Aichen. German, b. 1940
"LIP" Wastepaper Baskets. 1993 (1993)
Injection-molded polypropylene
Manufactured by Authentics artipresent GmbH, Germany
Lent by Authentics artipresent GmbH, Holzgerlingen, Germany

Jasper Morrison. British, b. 1959
"Bottle" Storage Module. 1994 (1993)
Injection-molded polypropylene and anodized aluminum
Manufactured by Magis S.r.l., Italy
Lent by Magis S.r.l., Motta Livenza, Italy
(photo by Miro Zagnoli, courtesy Domus Archives, Milan)

Santina Bonini. Italian, b. 1961
Ernesto Spicciolato. Italian, b. 1957
"Arctic Series" Bathroom Accessories. 1994 (1994)
Polyester resin
Manufactured by Gedy S.p.a., Italy
Lent by Gedy, S.p.a., Varedo, Italy

Antonio Citterio. Italian, b. 1950
Glen Oliver Löw. German, b. 1959
"Mobil" Container System. 1994 (1993)
Bulk-dyed thermoplastic polymer containers and chrome- or aluminum-colored steel frame and handles
Manufactured by Kartell S.p.a., Italy
Lent by Kartell S.p.a., Milan
(photo courtesy Kartell, Milan)

Enzo Mari. Italian, b. 1932
"Flores" Box. 1992 (1991)
Thermoplastic polymer
Manufactured by Danese S.r.l., Italy
Lent by Danese S.r.l., Grumello del Monte, Italy
(photos by Leo Torri, Milano, and by Benvenuto Saba, Milano, courtesy Abitare)

AT&T Global Information Solutions Design Integrity Center
Donald Carr of AT&T Consulting Design Group. American, b. 1959
"PalmMouse" Computer Pointing Device. (1992)
Injection-molded polycarbonate body, Santoprene thermoplastic elastomer saddle,
and copper and acetate antenna
Prototype by AT&T Global Information Solutions, United States
Lent by Donald Carr, Dayton, Ohio
(photo by Alexander, Glass, Ingersol, Inc., courtesy Donald Carr)

IDEO Product Development
Paul Bradley. American, b. 1960
Lawrence Lam. American, b. 1960
"3-D Mouse" Computer Pointing Device. 1991 (1991)
Injection-molded ABS (acrylonitrite-butadene-styrene)
Manufactured by Logitech, Inc., United States
Lent by Logitech, Inc., Fremont, Calif.
(photo by Rick English, San Francisco, courtesy Logitech, Inc.)

IDEO Product Development
Christopher Lada. American, b. 1952
Christopher Loew. American, b. 1963
Lawrence Schubert. American, b. 1962
"Proset" Professional Telephone Headset. 1993 (1991)
Injection-molded ABS-polycarbonate blend, acetal, insert-molded thermoplastic elastomers, stainless steel, and brass
Manufactured by Unex Corporation, United States
Lent by IDEO Product Development, Palo Alto
(photo by Stan Musliek, San Francisco, courtesy IDEO Product Development)

Paul Montgomery. American, b. 1959
Herbert Pfeiffer. German, b. 1949
"MouseMan Cordless" Computer Pointing Device. 1993 (1993)
Injection-molded ABS
Manufactured by Logitech, Inc., United States
Lent by Logitech, Inc., Fremont, Calif.
(photo by Dietmar Henneka, Stuttgart, courtesy Logitech, Inc.)

Vent Design
Stephen Peart. British, b. 1958
"Enterprise" Earmounted Telephone Headset. 1993 (1993)
Injection-molded polycarbonate and stamped metal
Manufactured by Plantronics, Inc., United States
Lent by Plantronics, Inc., Santa Cruz

Doug Patton. American, b. 1953
"Palm-Mate" Universal Remote Control. 1993 (1992)
ABS and acrylic
Manufactured by Go Video, Inc., United States
Lent by Go Video, Inc., Scottsdale, Ariz.

Purdue University
Steve Visser. American, b. 1959
Miro Tasic. American, b. 1968
Ashok Midha. Indian, b. 1946
"Compliers" Flexural Fishing Pliers. 1995 (1992)
Injection-molded Delrin
Manufactured by Compliers, Inc., United States
Lent by Steve Visser, West Lafayette, Ind.
(photo courtesy Steve Visser)

Plastics can be formed into very detailed and precise shapes, and can be engineered to maintain such shapes even with extensive use. Injection-molding--suitable for polymers such as polystyrene, polypropylene, and ABS--is the most frequently used technolo gy applied to plastics. Objects are produced serially from liquefied granules that are injected into steel molds. Computer-aided design and manufacturing (CAD/CAM) simulates the flow of the materials in the molds and virtually guarantees structural integr ity. The integrated joints of the "Compliers" handle manipulate the rigid jaws, which are configured especially to remove hooks from fish. Molded in one piece, the mechanism uses the principle of variable mechanical advantage: the farther the handle close s, the firmer the grip on a hook.

Gordon Randall Perry. American, b. 1943
Richard Feinbloom. American, b. 1948
"ClearVision II" Hand-held Magnifiers. 1994 (1994)
Die-cast urethane and glass
Manufactured by Designs for Vision, Inc., United States
Lent by Gordon Randall Perry, New York
(photo by Bill Waltzer, New York, courtesy Gordon Randall Perry)

Syn S.r.l.
Giorgio Gurioli. Italian, b. 1957
Francesco Scansetti. Italian, b. 1955
"Noce" Nutcracker. 1993 (1992)
Injection-molded glass-reinforced nylon
Manufactured by Outlook-Zelco Europe S.r.l., Italy
Lent by Zelco Industries, Inc., Mt. Vernon, N.Y.
(photo courtesy Syn S.r.l.)

Studio X
Ross Lovegrove. British, b. 1958
"Figure of Eight" Side Chair. 1994 (1993)
Die-cast polyurethane seat, stainless-steel frame, and nylon feet
Manufactured by Cappellini S.p.a., Italy
The Museum of Modern Art, New York, gift of the manufacturer
(photo courtesy Ross Lovegrove)

Ron Arad. British, b. Israel 1951
"Bookworm" Bookshelves. 1994 (1993)
Bulk-dyed extruded and injection-molded thermoplastic polymer
Manufactured by Kartell S.p.a., Italy
Lent by Kartell S.p.a., Milan

Joseph Forakis. American, b. 1962
"Havana" Hanging Lighting Fixture. 1993 (1993)
Blown polyethylene
Manufactured by Foscarini Murano S.p.a., Italy
Lent by Foscarini Murano S.p.a., Italy

Ninaber/Peters/Krouwel Industrial Design
Bruno Ninaber van Eyben. Dutch, b. 1950
Ruler. 1990 (1990)
Injection-molded Tampoprinted (pad-printed) ABS and evoprene elastomer
Manufactured by Randstad Uitzendbureau bv, The Netherlands
Lent by Ninaber/Peters/Krouwel Industrial Design, Leiden

Mark Sanders. British, b. 1958)
"No-Spill" Chopping Board. 1990 (1988)
Injection-molded polypropylene
Manufactured by Rubycliff, Ltd., Great Britain
The Museum of Modern Art, New York, gift of the designer

Initially used to simulate the appearance of more costly natural materials in the design of decorative objects, plastics have evolved into sturdy structural materials that are suitable for heavy-duty objects. The "No-Spill" chopping board is an articulate d, one-piece polypropylene slab that is a model of functional design. Developed over a period of five years, the board lies flat for chopping; it can then be folded into a chute to channel its contents directly into pots and pans, avoiding spills. The mat erial was chosen for its surface resistance and strength, even when thinly formed with bendable sections; the hinges are integrally molded with the slab. To achieve an effective tooling design, Mark Sanders used "mold flow" computer technology, which simu lates injected-plastic flow on a computer screen and imitates the progression of mold filling. The hinges were subjected to a test of one million folds and the cutting to the equivalent of two years of chopping, without damage.

Donald Terry Goodall. British, b. 1924
Threadless Medical Specimen Container. 1994 (1993)
Injection-molded polypropylene
Manufactured by Lekod Pty., Ltd., Australia
Lent by Donald Goodall, Blakehurst, Australia

Masayuki Kurokawa. Japanese, b. 1937
"Fieno" Scuba (Self-contained Underwater Re-Breathing Apparatus). 1994 (1993)
Injection-molded polycarbonate-polyester blend
Manufactured by Grand Bleu, Inc., Japan
Lent by Masayuki Kurokawa, Tokyo
(photo courtesy Masayuki Kurokawa)

Stefan Lindfors. Finnish, b. 1962
"Oil" One-liter and Four-liter Gasoline Cans. (1993)
Blow-molded polyethylene
Prototype by Neste Oy, Finland
Lent by Stefan Lindfors, Kansas City, Mo.
(photo Marco Melander, courtesy Stefan Lindfors)

Sanford Redmond. American, b. 1924
"dispenSRpak" Packaging. 1987 (1986)
High-density polyethylene and other thermoplastics
Lent by Sanford Redmond, New York
(photo courtesy Sanford Redmond)

IDEO Product Development
Tim Brown. British, b. 1962
Naoto Fukasawa. Japanese, b. 1956
Paul Howard. American, b. 1955
Computer Processor Stand. 1991 (1990)
Injection-molded high-impact polysterene
Manufactured by Technology Molded Plastics (now Hartzell, Inc.), United States
Lent by Details, New York

Pentagram Design
Daniel Weil. British, b. Argentina 1953
Compact-disk Packagings for Very and Very Relentless Albums by Pet Shop Boys. 1993 (1993)
Injection-molded polysterene
Manufactured by EMI Records, Great Britain
Lent by Pentagram Design, Ltd., London
(photo courtesy Pentagram Design, London)

Rollerblade Research and Development and Nordica S.p.a.
"Aeroblade ABT" In-line Skate. 1993 (1992)
BladeLite polyurethane shell, glass-reinforced nylon frame, foam padding, and other materials
Manufactured by Rollerblade, Inc., United States
Lent by Rollerblade, Inc., Minnetonka, Minn.

Ziba Design
Kuni Masuda. Japanese
Mark Stella. American
Sohrab Vossoughi. Iranian
"World Class 300 Series" Fishing Reel. 1993 (1992)
Injection-molded glass-filled nylon and spun aluminum
Manufactured by Fenwick, Inc., United States
Lent by Fenwick, Inc., Huntington Beach, Calif.
(photo by Michael Jones, courtesy Ziba Design)

TV and Video Systems Group Design Center
Seiji Kurokawa. Japanese, b. 1961
Fumitoshi Sakata. Japanese, b. 1958
Tetsuya Tsujimura. Japanese, b. 1966
"Twin Cam VL-MX7U" 8mm Video Camera. 1991 (1990)
Molded ABS, aluminum, and other materials
Manufactured by Sharp Corporation, Japan
Lent by Sharp Electronics Corporation, Mahwah, N.J.
(photo courtesy Sharp Corporation, Osaka)

Celina Clarke. Australian, b. 1967
Simon Christopher. Australian, b. 1967
"Madame Ruby" Lighting Fixture. 1994 (1994)
Compression-molded recycled polycarbonate-acrylic automotive taillights
Manufactured by ism objects, Australia
Lent by ism objects, Australia

Gino Colombini. Italian, b. 1915
Wastebaskets. 1993 (1968)
Injection-molded 100% recycled plastics
Manufactured by Kartell S.p.a., Italy
Lent by Kartell S.p.a., Milan
(photo courtesy Kartell, Milan)

These cylindrical wastebaskets are a good example of how plastics can incorporate the old within the new, from both a conceptual and a material standpoint. Manufactured by Kartell from recycled plastics, they are based on a classical design by Gino Colomb ini, the designer of many domestic objects produced by Kartell in the 1950s and 1960s.

Domus Academy Research Center
Karim Azzabi, Michele Barro, Esperanza Nunez Castain, Anna Castelli Ferrieri, Antonio Petrillo, and Andres Salas Acosta
"Neolite" Multipurpose Material. 1991 (1991)
100% heterogeneous recycled plastics
Manufactured by Montedipe/RPE (now Consortium Replastic), Italy
Lent by Domus Academy, Assago, Italy, and Consortium Replastic, Rome
(photo courtesy Domus Academy, Milan)

EnviroSafe Products, Inc.
DuraPlast. 1989 (1989)
High-density and low-density recycled plastics
EnviroBoard. 1989 (1989)
Recycled plastics and wood-dust composite
Manufactured by EnviroSafe Products, Inc., United States
Lent by EnviroSafe Products, Inc., New York

MAP International
Christopher Connell. Australian, b. 1954
"Plaky" Table. 1993 (1992)
Recycled ABS-polycarbonate blend and anodized aluminum
Manufactured by MAP (Merchants of Australian Products Pty., Ltd.), Australia
Lent by MAP, Melbourne
(photos by Trevor Mein, courtesy MAP)

Gaetano Pesce. Italian, b. 1939
"Table Made with Music." (1988)
Cured reactive-molded polyurethane-resin top surface and steel legs
Prototype by Bernini S.p.a., Italy
Lent by Bernini S.p.a., Carate Brianza, Italy
(photos by Bernini, courtesy Gaetano Pesce)

"Seaweed" Chair. (1991)
Resin-impregnated shredded fabrics
Prototype by Pesce, Ltd., United States
Lent by Peter Joseph Gallery, New York

Low Stools or Ottomans. (1994)
Resin-impregnated shredded fabrics
Prototype by Pesce, Ltd., United States
Lent by Ruth Shuman, New York
(photo by Parrish Puente, New York, courtesy Gaetano Pesce)

Yemm & Hart, Ltd.
"HDPE #2" Plastics. 1989 (1989)
Compression-molded recycled polyethylene
Manufactured by Yemm & Hart, Ltd., United States
Lent by Yemm & Hart, Ltd., Marquand, Mo.

Chevron Chemical Co.
Polyethylene Pellets. 1984 (1984)
Manufactured by Chevron Chemical Co., United States
Lent by Chevron Chemical Co., Orange, Tex.

Du Pont Polymer Products
Acetal-elastomer-thermoplastic alloy
Polyester-elastomer blend
Nylon-elastomer blend
Manufactured by Du Pont Polymer Products, United States
Lent by Du Pont Polymer Products, Wilmington, Del.

Fibers and Composites
Rubber and Foam
Other Materials


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©1995 The Museum of Modern Art, New York