I remember my first time walking past the window of Issey Miyake's Pleats Please store in downtown New York City. The second, third and fourth times that I walked passed it happened only minutes later, because I paced back in front of it repeatedly in order to fully absorb the effect. The window of the boutique was made of Lumisty, a designer material that changed from transparent to translucent as the viewer's angle changed. The experience was transfixing, and I wobbled, wandered and changed my view all to watching Miyake's clothing appear and dissolve into mist in rapid succession.
Since those early days, innovative materials and construction methods have become progressively more integral to the design process. While at the turn of the century designer materials were relatively rare, they've now become common place enough that nearly everybody owns something made of carbon fiber, and certain shapes of monocoque multilayer bike frames have been banned professional cycling because they supply a competitive advantage thought unfair. All of these technologies and more appear in Arroyo, Atena and Kebel's book, Emerging Technologies and Housing Prototypes, with an emphasis on "more." Aluminum foam, heat sensitive compounds and color changing fabrics are all included, with details on the manufacturers, including addresses, websites and phone contacts. While I cannot guarantee that simply knowing the name of the manufacturer will provide entree into purchasing novel technologies like LiTraCon transparent concrete (that's TRANSPARENT CONCRETE folks), it certainly is a step in the right direction.
Emerging Technologies and Housing Prototypes is intended for architects and building manufacturers rather than industrial designers, but the innovative use of materials should certainly not be restricted to builders. A repository of truly incredible materials previously only seen in the likes of Science, and Metropolis, Emerging Technologies and Housing Prototypes serves as a far cheaper resource for identifying and tracking new material innovations than would the price of admission to a library like http://www.materialconnexion.com/pa1.asp, though it would lack the tactile benefits.
The beginning of the book focuses on materials and is divided into sections on substances that change shape, alter optical properties, use innovative composite materials, respond to the behavior of the user, and finally a section that describes some of the new techniques that manufacturers now have at their disposal. The first half of the book should be an inspiration for any designer hoping to take advantage of the magnificent accomplishments of science in creating raw materials for us to mould, shape, and hopefully use with the same iconoclastic fervor that spurred their creation.
The second section of the book deals with research that has been done in finding housing and building applications for the materials discussed in the beginning. It makes for a fascinating read for a non-architect, but is undoubtedly focused on large scale projects. The issues tackled in this section, such as human interaction and sustainability, however, apply equally to architects and industrial designers, albeit on massively different scales. Reading about the high-rise buildings described within quickly demonstrates the level of engineering, chemical and manufacturing knowledge required to implement such projects. New materials are constantly being developed using cutting-edge techniques from chemistry, biology and physics rather than being pure contrivances of mechanical and civil engineering. Industrial designers will likely find that same knowledge base requisite in the future. For now, however, Emerging Technologies and Housing Prototypes illustrates that we do indeed live in interesting times, and that designers should reach for inspiration not only from the arts, but equally from science.