Thursday, March 19, 2009

A Rambling Response to Unknown Materials and Life-Cycle Thought

I found last week’s class to be interesting, but I found Caroline’s presentation to be fascinating on Saturday. For me, as she discussed this new material or product that she is studying and designing, I became excited for the opportunity to join in the experimentation. So much of what we learn here at RISD, or at least in the architecture department, is the amazing possibility of studying a material and discovering how to apply it. However, in our education, we stick to very standard materials, i.e. wood, rope, paper, metal, cardboard, plaster. Theses are materials that have been around for a very long time and have an entire history of experimentation and application associated with them. The really energizing thing about the used paper/plastic hybrid is that it is an unknown entity. The opportunities are completely uninhibited by any previous knowledge or expectations of the material, which would allow for such amazing exploration and experimentation. This is where I would love to see our department push more – the exploration of new material, not just the exploration of known materials, but also that of unknown materials. When I say unknown, this could mean the application of a material that is unknown to anyone, such as this plastic/paper hybrid, but it could also apply to the materials that are known to many, but relatively unknown to architecture. It becomes a little sad to me when someone will discuss the design process of an architect, almost always includes some description of opening up a printed catalogue of options and selecting. We are at a art/design school, it seems to me that it would be the perfect opportunity to apply every angle of design thinking that exists throughout the students of RISD toward pushing a new material and see what its potential really is, across all disciplines. I also believe that pushing us to work with this unknown material which has been created out of waste could bring a new level of engagement with the Design for Disassembly Movement. There are plenty of people in the architecture field considering these issues of life-cycle, so it would be great to give them the opportunity of not only designing for disassembly back into their original components, but also the ability to design for disassembly toward the creation of new materials via the hybridization of the materials being used from an outdated/obsolete structure. The more options we give designers, the more we’ll be amazed by what the materials are capable of. Once a materials has been pushed, played with, and tested by the design field, it will trickle down into common knowledge and gain acceptance as a material, no longer fighting a losing battle against social preconceptions and prejudices, allowing for wider and larger scale application. It brings life-cycle awareness to an accessible level. In school, we learn to think of life-cycle and embodied energy from the moment the first element of gathered from mother Earth. It includes every plow that every scraped land, every worker who even breathed on the raw material, up to raw material processing on to the other side of the spectrum of manufacturing, installation, use, removal, and disposal. Although in an ideal world, we would be aware and responsible for every single bit of energy and impact a product has during its life, it becomes too great of a snowballing mess to be conquered by each and every one of us. We need a system where you can trust that everything before your point in the process has been done with the highest standards and that everything that will happen after your time will also be handled with the highest standards, so that you could really focus all of your energy into making sure to handle your period in time with the highest standards, but unfortunately, we still cannot depend upon anything before or anything after our moment of intervention.

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