Material ConneXion KEA is perhaps the most shining example of Material ConneXion's academic presence. Located within the Material Design Lab at the Copenhagen School of Design and Technology, part of Applied Research and Innovation, the lab and library are comprised of an interdisciplinary space where science and design meet in the exploration and understanding of materials.
The Material Design Lab currently consists of The Box, The Lab and The Library.
The Box is a walk-in expandable box that contains an exhibition of raw materials. It is the starting point to a basic understanding of the ‘raw ingredients’ before they are processed and mixed, a place where it is possible to study the fiber before it is spun, learn about the steps from crude oil to plastic granulate and to compare an oak log with a plank of pine.
The Lab itself is the heart of Material Design Lab and resembles a hybrid between a design prototyping workshop, a scientific laboratory and an industrial kitchen. It is a space designed for materials to be tested, manipulated, refined and, potentially, for new ones to be created.
The library is the Material ConneXion collection, containing 1,500 material samples as well as access to the online database providing detailed information on over 7,500 materials. The library also holds a wide range of books on materials relating to design and architecture.
The Material Design Lab officially opened on the 28th of January, 2015, but has been tested for a little more than a year. In this short time, we have collaborated with different companies, research institutions and organizations who are focused on materials and sustainability, such as Nike (http://nikemakers.com/kea) and Launch Nordic (http://www.launch.org/nordic).
President, Material ConneXion - Michele Caniato
Director, Material Design Lab - Mette Bak-Andersen
At Copenhagen School of Design & Technology, KEA, we realized that despite giving theoretical classes on materials, most students were not obtaining sufficient knowledge of the industry. Likewise, the industry was pointing out that many companies suffered from a lack of knowledge about materials in their departments of design and development.
The material can, to a great extent, be seen as the DNA of a product; it is what defines both the tactile and technical properties, and therefore largely determines the production method, price and the environmental impact. This means that for any professional involved in designing the physical world, it is essential to have a profound understanding of materials. A lack of knowledge about materials effectively creates a barrier between the designer and the product; a barrier that not only acts against the implementation of so-called advanced materials and new technologies, but also becomes a major obstacle to the creation of sustainable, industrially produced products.
Considering that all human-made materials that surround us are made from elements that are naturally occurring on our planet, it can be hard to understand how using these same elements in materializing and building our civilization could end up being harmful to the same environment they came from. However, it is no longer a secret to anyone that the way we build is jeopardizing the balance of the ecosystem. Before human beings started making materials and products there was no waste. Nature designed the most incredible closed loop system - perhaps with only one defect: us.
Cradle to cradle (McDonough & Braungart 2002) and the similar term ‘circular economy’ are attempts to design a closed loop material system that embraces the human-made world. Apart from a biological cycle that can be classified as nature’s own, these systems include a technical cycle for materials that are not necessarily biodegradable, but can be used again when recycled. Understanding how to design for a circular economy where a product has to either be recycled or biodegraded at the end of its life requires a profound understanding of the composition and compatibility of materials.
In many places, design schools are looking for ways to bring the knowledge of materials back into education. The Material Design Lab is our attempt to respond to this dilemma. The creation of Material Design Lab is based on experience obtained from the teachers at Copenhagen School of Design and Technology, discussions with the industry and educational experiments in sustainable design and materials made in Denmark and Spain by Material Design Lab director Mette Bak-Andersen. Our references are materials scientists such as Mark Miodownik, who has created the Institute of Making in London and Mike Ashby, who has written several books of reference and is behind the digital material platform CES EDUPACK.
The didactic approach to the material exploration and design is methodologically placed, like Material Design Lab it self, between art and science. Therefore, we make use of both phenomenological sensory-based methods that traditionally are found in art and design and scientific methods involving experimentation, measurement and systematic observation. The phenomenological sensory approach addresses the experience of the material such as the tactility, the aesthetics and the perception of the material, and a more scientific approach determines technical aspects such as chemical composition, strength and environmental impact.
We believe the key to innovation lies in cross-disciplinary collaborations, and, therefore, we make an effort to work with a variety of professionals from both research and industry. We provide a space that is designed to learn about materials - a place where materials can be explored, tested and where new ones can be created. We believe that discussions, collaborations and hands-on projects where designers meet with chemists, microbiologists, tissue engineers or other professionals involved in materials, can potentially be a driver for new inventions.