SoftMatters

PhD student

Antoine Tour

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Designing sensitive states of matter: an anthropology of transmittable skills

Antoine Tour, Hermès Foundation funded PhD with Campus MAD prepared at Ensadlab (on-going). Supervision: Jean-François Bassereau, Nunja Jamil.

. . Inventory, description, organization, collection of materials

How to offer a standardized and sensitive classification of materials and processes, through a methodology that takes into consideration the different states of matter (properties, qualities, values), with the aim of inviting researchers, students and industry professionals to come at the centre of a public cultural institution that promotes knowledge sharing and build the relationship between research and engineering, as well as creation and industry ?

A typical material library is defined by the collection of a large amount of materials, organized according to a hierarchy and a classification of related knowledge. It is structured on a relevant classification methodology that can stimulate the researcher and determines how to find the information he seeks. In practice, the criteria used to select materials induce all the knowledge relating to one material, including a complete description of the material, as well as empirical and pragmatic information.

The material library is a database that can be used to research a material. The qualification of a material’s properties, and the association of different classification methods are some of the structuring issues of this research. Another challenge is to include various information into the database : including transformation and finishing processes (in order to obtain a different material), or information on the material’s qualities, uses and environmental impact. The technical and technological capacities related to materials offer a wide range of potentialities that a material library must integrate.

It is also possible to classify and select materials according to specific properties, required by the technical constraints of a project. This scientific and logical classification approach can be described as “deductive” since it deduces from a technical problem its most effective solving method. This is the case of the Ashby diagram, which offers a classification oriented towards a material’s performance. That being said, the performance of a mechanical, thermal, energy behaviour or the production cost of a project are not the only determining factors: the relationship between constraint and risk is insufficient to judge the material’s value. This happens when we consider sensitive qualities, including visual, auditory, tactile or olfactory qualities. A contemporary material library should be able to compare the technical terminology specific to engineering with an established sensory vocabulary.

Let’s consider a process which aims to classify matter according to perceptive criteria, and defines a material both by its “finished state” and its potential transformation, a matter “to be created”. Such a process would allow to include other materials hitherto excluded from other material libraries.

Material libraries specializing in ecological issues have already inventoried a number of innovative materials and manufacturing processes. The limit that could be brought to such a  library would be to exclude the practical “living world” aspect of the material in itself. The multitude of biological potentialities could indeed lead to the trap of an infinite repertoire.

In order to respond to the structural need to organize knowledge on materials and to broaden research to new fields of formatting, we need to use a more inclusive method of classification, making it possible to rethink the way of doing projects. Material typologies from chemistry and biology will thus be integrated into their transformation process, such as technological materials, which may use new classification typologies.

The organization system of the material library opens potentials to new classification categories with its own similarity criteria based on scales that make it possible to discern, name and measure the qualities and properties of matter. All the specific typologies of the art and design professions are necessary in order to establish a classification of the senses’ qualification and make it possible to structure datas according to a standardized bibliographic vocabulary. The specific lexicons from crafts and heritage, which place design at the centre of reflections on matter, will be a central subject of this research.

This original structure could inspire new meanings for the materials, according to a relational and perceptive function. The idea would be to bring together all the information around the materials and their forming processes, by proposing a dissemination of know-how and an institutionalized sharing of information, according to a new method of standardized and replicable organization.

Material library can also constitute a potential support for communication in the form of moderation and exchanges between different actors working around the question of materials and their implementation. Manufacturers, researchers, craftsmen, engineers, and students could use the material library as a space for shared reflection. The area of the Campus could thus make it possible to compare materials with each other and give the possibility of shaping sample tests, encouraging research and creation, between the shaping workshop and the material library.

In this hypothesis, this research project should be articulated in three stages specific to the feasibility of this material library. Firstly, it will be a question of comparing different methodological approaches by drawing up the state of the art resulting from theoretical research around the relationship between materiality and sensoriality, and by studying the mode of operation of different material libraries. This study should make it possible to establish, from evaluation methods, practical hypotheses and a classification confronting the sensitive properties with the classic approaches from the engineering sciences in order to be able to make them complementary. In a second step, it will be necessary to draw up a protocol for the historization of the material, to inventory it according to all of its shaping stages, by proposing the material not as a finished element but as an intermediate object of design. By setting up practical scenarios, it will be possible to induce traceability of materials integrating their environmental impact as well as the different business vocabularies. Finally, it will be a question of setting up a common physical space including the research environment and the material library through a system of spatialized directories, offering the possibility to the actors to meet in a space dedicated to the creation, the safeguard heritage and the sharing of knowledge.

Indicative Bibliography

  • Ashby, M., & Johnson, K. (2002). Materials and Design: The Art and Science of Material Selection in Product Design. Oxford: Butterworth-Heinemann.
  • Bassereau, J.F. (2015). Les Objets intermédiaires de conception / Design, Instruments d’une recherche par le design. In Sciences du Design, 2(1), 48-63.
  • De Giorgi, C. (2020). The Material Side of Design. Turin: Umberto Allemandi.
  • Karana, E., Hekkert, P., & Kandachar, P. (2010) A tool for meaning driven materials selection. In Materials and Design, 31, 2932–2941.
  • Karana, E. (2009) Meanings of Materials (TU Delft, 2009).
  • Rognoli, V. (2010). A broad survey on expressive-sensorial characterization of materials for design education. In Metu, Journal of the Faculty of Architecture, 27, 287-300. DOI: 10.4305/METU.JFA.2010.2.16