Conceptualization and Realities of Material Science

06/02/2017 By Kadie Yale

Years ago, I took a sustainable construction management course. LEED certification was just gaining steam, and I thought it would help my understanding of built environments.

What I didn’t expect, however, were the ways in which it would deepen my relationship with materials. While I thought the course would teach me more about
construction techniques, it relied heavily on learning about material science, particularly the growing database of sustainable products that help contribute to LEED points.

It was also the first time I had the experience of realizing the disconnect between understanding a material conceptually and actually using it.

For the class final, we each constructed a test building using the materials we had specified for the project, looking at a variety of environmental and sociological factors that would fit into each project type. Mine was an open-kitchen restaurant, requiring plenty of ventilation, low flammability, and had to meet ADA standards while reaching the level of LEED certification I was after. The tiny village we built ended up being used by the police academy to run drills.

While I was proud of my little restaurant, it didn’t quite turn out the way I had expected, mainly due to smaller details. For example, I would never paint a wall without testing out swatches of colors to see how it looks throughout the day, but I was surprised to realize I would use a stain, concrete, or surfacing material without giving it the same consideration.  

We hope to give our Materials Pavilion visitors at NeoCon that type of hands-on experience that is at times lacking as material libraries become digitized. Many of the products we will display make appearances in this issue of interiors+sources as well, whether the bacteria-busting Sharklet (Theory, pg. 42; and A-Z, pg. 60), Bonded Logic’s denim insulation (also in A-Z), or quantum acoustic panels by Delta H Design (Sources Spotlight, pg. 76).

However, all of this isn’t to say that being able to physically interact with materials is somehow inherently better than learning about new technologies you can’t get your hands on. Many of us need to know how a piece of siding feels, or see how thin tile works in a space because we will be using it on a regular basis. But, just knowing that science is able to create textiles from spider silk or scratch-and-sniff wallpaper (A-Z) can add so much to the field. Even if you don’t
personally use these products in any projects, being aware of our ability to push the limits of material science opens us up to a wealth of understanding about where design is headed.

We hope this issue will be one you keep on hand for quick tips on everything from how to source the best lighting for your project (Field Notes, pg. 48) and understanding why red tiles may be a bit more elusive (How I Sourced It, pg. 114), to learning more about the latest in material science. And be sure to check out our Materials Pavilion at NeoCon on the 7th floor, designed by one of our I Like Design winners, Savanah Colestock (Designers to Watch, pg. 15).

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