February 7, 2012
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Libraries = books, right? The material library obliterates that equation. Imagine rows of cutting edge plastic, glass, ceramics, metals, etc. for you to touch and brainstorm! It’s a product designer’s dream for inspiration and innovation.
I geeked out when I had a chance to access the Material Connexion in New York City, the only North American location. The library space from the lobby, meeting room, and material room are delightfully laid out, indexed, and coordinated.
Visitors can spend their time perusing over hundreds of “material swatches” and then contact the material manufacturer directly for more samples or information. The Material Connexion also has an online database where users can search on the ~6,500 materials in their collection based on multiple criteria like heat resistance or renewability.
The biggest material trend seen at the library is green material, anything sustainable. Hearing how a replacement for landfill-clogging Styrofoam had been created sparked excitement and hope . Two engineering and product design guys baked a mixture of corn and fungus together to form tough, biodegradable foam. They grow their innovation on an Upstate New York farm, which has packaging impacts around the world. Check out Ecovative Design’s EcoCradle foam.
I next picked up what appeared to be a rock-like square. Lo and behold when that block stands up to the light! The material is actually translucent with streaks of light peering throughout, revealing my hand underneath. Imagine if Milan museums or Nagoya nightclubs use this material for chic designs…
A rotating group of cross-industry professionals vote on accepting approximately 50 materials into Material Connexion a month. The application possibilities are like a kid in a candy store. I was stoked to pick up a polymer that retains smell for applications like a rose-smelling trash container.
Aside from NYC, I still envied all those people in Bangkok, Beijing, Cologne, Daegu, Istanbul, Milan and Seoul where other Material Connexion libraries operate.
Many traditional book libraries face budget cuts around the country given the digital reality. Imagine if designers, teachers and parents took their budding inventors to local material libraries where kids could play and immerse themselves around innovative materials. What would we build next?
How are those Legos and Lincoln Logs looking?