The inventions that have most revolutionised our world have always existed at the crossroads of science and design: the wheel, the lightbulb, the internet. Just as it’s hard to imagine these designers without a bit of ‘mad’ scientist within them, it’s equally difficult in the reverse. Today, as design magnetises itself to a parallel with science in order to move forward and provide solutions to modern problems and depleting resources, the first place to begin with a post-hypothesis is the obvious one: the design material in which all else follows.

At this year’s Dutch Design Week in Eindhoven, 10 Swedish design studios came together with 10 scientists, devoting six months to research new materials and create from them. Curated by the designer Nina Warnolf, the What Matter_s exhibition is a collaboration between Southern Sweden Creatives, Form/Design Center, SPOK and Art and Science Initiative. The intention behind the project was to activate pioneering thinking by creating a sense of camaraderie between each scientist and designer. This allowed the scientists involved to explore how their specialised prowess could manifest itself through a design lens, effectively giving a new chance for designers to experiment with non-commercial materials.

The  exhibition showcased a variety of possibilities: some of the objects are made from ancient, natural material like spider silk or chitin; others are hypermodern, using bioplastics and graphene. A defining feature of each of the ten experimental results is that they all possess natural elements, of which the design possibilities are stretched to order to stand relevant and innovative in our technological era.

Each presentation shared a commonality in that they all begged the question: What’s next? And what could be next?

This brave new world of material is a theme that was exhaustively covered at Dutch Design Week. Some of the experimental results prove to be more scalable than others ­­­­­­– but each presentation shared a commonality in that they all begged the question: What’s next? And what could be next? As for what our spatiality of tomorrow will look like, these five interior objects chosen from the 10 What Matter_s projects provide an apt visualisation as we continue to answer that question.

Designer: Jenny Lee of Studio Aikieu

Researcher: Dr. Solmaz Hajizadeh, biotechnology and chemical engineering researcher at Lund University

Project: Living Systems

Material Base: Chitin

For their What Matter_s object, Lee and Dr. Hajizadeh sought to find a way to utilise waste from the fishing industry. Their material of choice? Chitin. Found in the shells of crustaceans, in the cell walls of fungi and insect exoskeletons, it extremely adaptable in terms of texture and structure and after cellulose, the fibrous material is the most prolific biopolymer in nature. ‘I want to learn more about how I can apply different disciplines into a design contexts so I can then learn how we can cultivate nature in a way that’s more sustainable,’ said Lee. Their Living Systems table is crafted from chitin extracted from shellfish.

Designer: Kunsik Choi

Researcher: Professor Rajni Hatti-Kaul, the Biotechnology Department at Lund University

Project: MATching

Material Base: Bioplastics

‘We are trying to find a certain colour, texture and structural possibility,’ said Choi of the bioplastic material he and Professor Hatti-Kaul experimented with. Using the degradable and non-toxic material, they produced a series of handmade bioplastic plant pots made from pouring pigmented liquid bioplastic into wooden moulds. The pinky, fleshy toned pots are highlighted by pops of colour. Their project references the existing juxtaposition of artificial versus natural by challenging the fact we put plants in environmentally destructive plastic containers.

Designers: Anny Wang and Tim Söderström of Wang and Söderström

Researchers: Professor Magnus Borgström and Dr. Vilgailè Dagytè of NanoLund

Project: Array

Material Base: Brushed aluminium and ClimSel

To attempt to counteract energy consumption of traditional radiators and air conditioners, Wang, Söderström, Borgström and Dagytè turned to nanowires for inspiration. Nanowires, which can be lab-grown and used for renewable energy harvesting, are normally applied in electronics and the creation of solar cells. Mimicking its geometric properties, the two designers created a prototype that regulates heat by utilising a phase change material and the conductivity properties of brushed aluminium.

Designer: Petter Thörne

Researcher: Dr. Paulien Strandberg, researcher in the department of building materials, Lund University

Project: Grain

Material Base: Hemp hurds

Hemp is already a celebrated natural material, but Thörne and Strandberg’s work focuses on its by-product: a woody portion of the stalk, called hemp hurds. The material can be used in combination with building limes in order to construct sustainable walls, but is rarely left exposed because of its roughness. To maximise its utility in interiors, Thorne changed the composition by substituting the lime agent, which allowed for the material to form into more refined shapes. The product? A series of candleholders that play on the texture rather than muting it.

Designer: Kajsa Willner

Researcher: Professor Dmytro Orlov, materials engineering researcher at Lund University

Project: Polarised Portraits

Material Base: Plastic

Polarised Portraits centralises itself around the idea that science informs and enhances our feelings and perceptions of the world. Willner and Orlov aimed to play with optical illusions with their material portraits. Using linear polarisation filters, disposable fruit bags and protective packaging, the effect when backlit create an object of beauty: the stress patterns and double refraction create colour and visual texture, a contrast to the environmental detriment plastic waste has inflicted on Earth.

The What Matter_s exhibition was on display at the Veem building on Floor 2 during Dutch Design Week 2018.