Inside the Box: Materials Council

Brad Turner and Ian Hunter with Materials Council. Image courtesy Materials Council.
Brad Turner and Ian Hunter with Materials Council. Image courtesy Materials Council.
I met Ian Hunter last month at the Materials Council exhibit at the Super Brands London venue during the London Design Festival. The exhibit featured large-scale, cubic volumes in different scales to physically represent the amount of various architectural materials that can be produced for one tonne of C02 emissions. The display was intended to promote the work of the London-based consultancy established by Hunter and Brad Turner, former materials researchers at Foster + Partners. I recently asked Hunter to share how the firm sources for new materials and which materials he sees trending in architecture, interiors, and product design.
The "In the Scale of Carbon" exhibition by Materials Council at this year's London Design Festival. © Rita Catinella Orrell
The “In the Scale of Carbon” exhibition by Materials Council at this year’s London Design Festival. © Rita Catinella Orrell
How did you two meet? How large is the firm?

Brad and I met at school over 16 years ago. We always shared the same interests and both ended up studying Industrial Design in Edinburgh, where we always discussed opening a design studio together. After university we both did our own thing for a few years, then had the good fortune to work together at Foster + Partners, looking after the Materials Research Centre. In this role we supported architectural design teams in their selection of materials, researched and kept the practice abreast of new materials, products, and technologies, and maintained the comprehensive materials library.

Brad moved on to work at Dezeen while I stayed on at F+P, then after another few years we decided that we would launch our own business providing creative material expertise to the architecture and design community. The business was launched with Zürich-based Architonic, the global leading digital resource for products and materials.

Materials Council is still a relative acorn in the business world, with Brad and I the permanent foot soldiers. However, as we work closely with associate partners Architonic, we have access to their 70+ experts in architecture and digital technology when appropriate. Nils Becker, co-founder of Architonic, is especially generous with his time.

The firm's "Whiter than White" exhibition during the 2012 London Design Festival. Image courtesy Materials Council.
The firm’s “Whiter than White” exhibition during the 2012 London Design Festival. Image courtesy Materials Council.

What projects are you currently working on?

At the moment we are providing architectural materials support for a couple of high-end residential properties in London. We are consulting to Clayworks, Cornwall-based manufacturers of clay plasters, improving the communication and presentation of their products for the A&D community.

Alongside that, we are preparing  and then delivering a number of talks and workshops to architects and universities.

What materials trends do you see happening currently in architecture? In interiors? In product design?

One trend that we’re witnessing at the moment is a return to vernacular, traditional, and natural materials in response to environmental demands placed on architects and designers, and I suspect in response to an increasingly homogenous globalized world. The exciting thing is there is a new generation of natural materials available that are modified or engineered to improve performance while remaining environmentally benign.

In interiors there is a particular focus on materials which create healthy indoor spaces, increasing comfort, wellbeing, and happiness of building occupants.
In product design we’re seeing many objects taking advantage of the ultra-thin, ultra-tough chemically strengthened glass products that have allowed the proliferation of portable digital technology. Advances in performance coatings for glass continue to improve their functionality.
Flooring options study by Materials Council. Image courtesy Materials Council.
Flooring options graphics by Materials Council. Image courtesy Materials Council.
Where do you find out about new materials? 

As this is entirely our focus we have the luxury of time to devote to researching materials that is unrealistic for architects and designers. Typically we read books, magazines, and visit a number of excellent websites. We visit a lot of trade fairs around Europe. We are in constant dialogue with manufacturers, who, thanks to our strong relationships, keep us informed of developments. Essentially we’re very passionate about what we do, so we talk about materials a lot to people – creatives, manufacturers, scientists, and academics. The key is finding a balance  between looking specifically within the world of architecture and design, and widening the net to look into the materials being used within other disciplines, for example transportation, military or sports.

Graphic design illustrating the life cycle of materials created for a client.

What are some new materials that you are excited about?

Getting me very excited at the moment is the tremendous amount of innovation with concrete. As a ubiquitous material, there is a lot of pressure on the concrete industry to reduce their enormous environmental impact. There are exciting developments in low carbon concretes, Calera in California, being the most promising. At the other end of the spectrum there are fantastic developments in the surface finishes available for concrete. One of our favorites is Graphic Relief, who produce surface imagery with unprecedented precision.
Molded concrete by Graphic Relief. Image © Graphic Relief.
Molded concrete by Graphic Relief Ltd. Image © Graphic Relief.

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