Mutant Materials in Contemporary Design

Rubber and Foam

Rubber and foam is a wide-ranging category that encompasses various materials and technologies, including natural and synthetic rubbers, gels, foams, and air- or gas-filled bladders. The softness and flexibility of such materials make them particularly useful for objects engineered to adapt comfortably to the human body.

Thermoplastic elastomers (TPEs) are synthetic rubbers that can be formed into complex shapes with processes similar to those used for plastics, such as injection- and blow-molding. Although they were first discovered in the 1950s, TPEs were not widely introduced until quite recently.

Polyurethane, an endless source of innovation, has been used to create a huge diversity of objects. Soft polyurethane and polyurethane foam are represented in the exhibition by such objects as vases, sofas, armchairs, and lumbar supports. High-memory thermoreactive foam, a material that is activated by body heat and can remember the user's shape, is a recent development adapted from the aerospace industry. Other applications, like the gas- or air-filled polyurethane bladders used in sports equipment and walking shoes, have been developed by designers to improve softness and bounce.

Silica and silicone also lend themselves to diverse applications. The material appears in the exhibition in the form of aerogels, jellyfish-like substances that are lighter than air; gels, which are used for cushions and pads; and elastomers, which serve as an elastic diffuser of light sources.

As a group, the objects in this section display an interest in the design of comfort, a development that has greatly benefited from the ongoing research being conducted on materials.

Ron Arad. British, b. Israel 1951
"Misfits" Sofa. (1993)
ICI Waterlily foam and upholstery fabric
Prototype by Moroso S.p.a., Italy
Lent by Moroso S.p.a., Cavalicco, Italy

Dynamic Systems, Inc.
"Sun-Mate" and "Pudgee" Foam Cushionings. 1978 (1978)
Open-cell high-performance polymeric foam containing 50% vegetated plant materials
Manufactured by Dynamic Systems, Inc., United States
Lent by Dynamic Systems, Inc., Leicester, N.C.

Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory at the University of California
"Aerogel" Insulating Material. 1987 (1987)
Manufactured by Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, United States
Lent by Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory at the University of California, Livermore, Calif.

Ross Lovegrove of Studio X. British, b. 1958
Stephen Peart of Vent Design. British, b. 1958
Knoll In-house Design Team
"Surf Collection" Lumbar Support. 1994 (1994)
Molded Gecet (high-memory thermoreactive polyurethane foam), neoprene, nylon, and die-cast zinc counterweight
Manufactured by The Knoll Group, United States
Lent by The Knoll Group, New York
(photo courtesy The Knoll Group)

MAP International
Christopher Connell. Australian, b. 1954
"Pepe" Chair. 1993 (1992)
Injection-molded CFC (chlorofluorocarbon-free) flexible polyurethane foam, self-skinning polyurethane, wool upholstery, steel-spring support, and steel frame
Manufactured by MAP (Merchants of Australian Products Pty., Ltd.), Australia
Lent by MAP, Melbourne
(photos courtesy MAP International)

Michele Popp-Saward. American, b. 1968
"Image Pro" Bicycle Helmet. 1993 (1993)
In-mold Microshell expanded-polystyrene foam liner, insert-molded polycarbonate shell, and nylon webbing
Manufactured by Bell Sports, Inc., United States
Lent by Bell Sports, Inc., Los Gatos, Calif.

Renzo Piano Building Workshop
Renzo Piano. Italian, b. 1937
Noriaki Okabe. Japanese, b. 1947
Kansai International Airport Lobby Seating. 1994 (1993)
Molded polyurethane foam, steel, aluminum, artificial leather with proteins, and beech-veneer plywood
Manufactured by Okamura Corporation, Japan
Lent by Okamura Corporation, Tokyo
(photos by BWJ, Osaka)

Sensa Design
Boyd Willat. American, b. 1943
"Sensa" Pen. 1994 (1993)
Injection-molded Plasmium gel grip, silicone jacket, and aluminum-and-brass-alloy interior
Manufactured by Willat Writing Instruments, United States
Lent by Willat Writing Instruments, Los Angeles

Wayman R. Spence. American, b. 1934
"UltraSoft Blue Gel Bicycle Comfort Pad." 1994 (1994)
Thermo-injected UltraSoft (viscoelastic-polymeric) gel
Manufactured by WRS Sportsmed (a division of the WRS Group, Inc.), United States
Lent by the WRS Group, Inc., Waco, Tex.
(photos courtesy WRS Group)

Aubert Y. Coran. American, b. 1932
Raman P. Patel. American, b. 1936
Sabet Abdou-Sabet. American, b. 1937
"Santoprene" Thermoplastic Elastomer Pellets. 1981 (1981)
Elastomeric alloy/thermoplastic vulcanizate made from cross-linked polypropylene and EPDM (ethylene-polypropylene-diene monomer) rubber
Manufactured by Advanced Elastomer Systems, L.P., United States
Lent by Advanced Elastomer Systems, L.P., St. Louis, Mo.

Binoculars. 1990 (1988)
Injection-molded polymers, elastomers, and other materials
Manufactured by Carl Zeiss Ferngläser, Germany
Lent by frogdesign, Sunnyvale, Calif., and Carl Zeiss Ferngläser, Aalen, Germany
(photo courtesy frogdesign)

GVO, Inc.
Michael Barry. American, b. 1956
Shawn Hanna. Canadian, b. 1969
Jay Wilson. American, b. 1941
"i/O" Personal Digital Assistant. (1994)
Insert-molded Santoprene thermoplastic elastomer over injection-molded ABS
Lent by GVO, Inc., Palo Alto
(photo courtesy GVO)

Hella Jongerius. Dutch, b. 1963
"DD 09 Soft Vases." (1994)
Molded soft polyurethane
Lent by Droog Design Foundation, Voorburg, The Netherlands

Smart Design
Stephan Allendorf. American, b. 1954
Michael Callahan. American, b. 1965
Dan Formosa. American, b. 1953
Steven Russak. American, b. 1962
Davin Stowell. American, b. 1953
Tucker Viemeister. American, b. 1948
"Good Grips" Utensils. 1989 (1989)
Injection-molded Santoprene and other materials
Manufactured by OXO International, United States
The Museum of Modern Art, New York, gifts of the designers
(photo by Kenneth Willardt, courtesy Smart Design)

Virtual Studio
Peter Stathis. American, b. 1960
"Thumb Sparing" Ski-pole Grip. (1991)
Double-shot injection-molded Santoprene
Lent by Peter Stathis, Philadelphia

Design Continuum, Inc.
David Chastain. American, b. 1952
Andrew Jones. American, b. 1959
Harvey Koselka. American, b. 1964
Carl Madore. American, b. 1966
"Airflex" Baseball Glove. 1991 (1991)
Lycra-covered neoprene, RF (radio-frequency) welded polyurethane air system, and full-grain leather shell and liner
Manufactured by Spalding Sports Worldwide, United States
Lent by Design Continuum, Inc., Boston
(photos courtesy Design Continuum)

Nike Product Design
"Nike-Air" Athletic Shoe Cushionings:
"Air Max2," "Blow-molded Technology Cushioning," "Flexile-Air," and "Low-pressure Nike-Air." 1994 (1993)
Blow-molded urethane
"Nike-Air Tensile-Air" Cushioning.
1994 (1993)
Urethane film and three-dimensional mesh fabric
"Air Go LWP" (LightWeight Performance) Athletic Shoe (section). 1994 (1994)
Solid-rubber outsole, Phylon (ethylvinylacetate) foam midsole, "Visible Air" heel, "Tensile-Air" forefoot, and synthetic rubber

"Air Moc" Shoe. 1994 (1994)
Full-grain leather, neoprene, synthetic leather, thermoplastic rubber, and Regrind rubber
"Regrind" Rubber. 1992 (1992)
Granulated and separated elastomer obtained from recycled athletic-shoe soles

Manufactured by Nike, Inc., United States
Lent by Nike, Inc., Beaverton, Ore.
(photos courtesy Nike)

Marc Sadler. French, b. 1946
"Drop 1" and "Drop 2" Lighting Fixtures. 1994 (1993)
Injection-molded silicon-elastomer diffusers and Lexan polycarbonate wall mounts
Manufactured by Arteluce (a division of Flos S.p.a.), Italy
Lent by Flos S.p.a., Brescia, Italy
Motorcyclist's "Bap" Back Protector. 1993 (1992)
Expanded-polyethylene base, low-memory-foam inner padding, expanded-polyurethane pads, and polypropylene cup protector
Manufactured by Dainese S.p.a., Italy
Lent by Dainese S.p.a., Molvena, Italy
(photos courtesy Marc Sadler)

Masayuki Kurokawa. Japanese, b. 1937
"Gom" Pens. 1992 (1992)
Injection-molded synthetic rubber, stainless steel, and brass
"Gom" Push Pins and Magnets. 1985 (1984)
Injection-molded synthetic rubber and stainless steel
Manufactured by Fuso Gum Industry Co., Ltd., Japan
Lent by Masayuki Kurokawa, Tokyo
(photo courtesy Masayuki Kurokawa)

Vent Design
Stephen Peart. British, b. 1958
Bradford Bissell. American
"Animal" Wet Suit. 1989 (1988)
Molded neoprene, thermoplastic elastomer, nylon jersey, and Delrin zipper
Manufactured by O'Neill, Inc., United States
Lent by Vent Design, Campbell, Calif.
(photos courtesy Vent Design)

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