The Mars Challenge: Seetal Solanki’s Material Manual
We have now opened submissions for The Challenge – Design to De-stress in conjunction with the upcoming Frame #119 Nov/Dec issue. Each Challenge addresses a different topical issue, which we ask designers to respond to.
The Challenge series in Frame magazine began in our #114 Jan/Feb issuethis year, under the section called Talents. Inspired by Elon Musk’s plans for space colonization, we asked five young designers to create an essential travel item for a trip to Mars. Seetal Solanki was one of them.
Please introduce yourself.
SEETAL SOLANKI: I’m the founder and director of Ma-tt-er, a research studio, platform and consultancy that explores the potential of materials.
What does this exploration involve?
We start by researching the source of each material in question. This helps us to understand the provenance and geographical location of the raw material – does it stem from geology, agriculture, or something else? This research helps us to see how materials are processed and applied, as well as how they might come to exist in more sustainably in the future. Going on this path of discovery identifies where current systems are failing and how we can improve them.
How did you do this for your Mars project?
I wanted to design something that could matter, not just create a product that may not be useful. Nothing gimmicky. I feel strongly that we have to rethink the way in which we design when it’s for another planet. We can benefit from some of the errors we’ve made on Earth in shaping a new environment on Mars. Plus I didn’t see the point of transporting materials from Earth that might be harmful to a planet with no ozone layer to protect it. Why not build and design with materials that are familiar to the Martian environment and atmosphere instead?
What materials are there on Mars?
What we know at the moment is that there is a lot of ice, dust, iron, silicon, and potassium on the red planet. The potential of these materials and the scope to which we could utilize such resources could be exponential. Architect Alejandro Aravena says that ‘a scarcity of means forces an abundance of meaning’. Even if there’s no life on Mars, we’ll create with its most abundant resource: dust.
So your contribution is a guide to the material that Mars made of?
Yes. It explains how indigenous materials can be of functional use to humans in that alien environment. These materials might appear foreign, but if processed correctly they can become familiar. Dust, for example, can be captured and compressed into bricks; silicon can be processed into a binding agent; and the iron can be mined to create the structural parts of buildings (if housing or buildings would ever be constructed on the surface of Mars).