Tile made of snail excrement, thermochromic leather, shredded and compressed counterfeit dollars and fabric woven of peacock feathers are a few of the obscure yet practical resources that can be found within the aisles of Material Connexion. In its new location at the Sandow headquarters in New York City, the library has expanded its offering by 30% to include more than 7,000 material samples.
“Each month, we add materials to the library, open more locations around the world and sign on new Fortune 500 companies to use our consulting services,” said Michele Caniato, president of Material Connexion.
Since its acquisition by Sandow in 2011, the company has opened locations in Beijing, Shanghai, Istanbul, Skövde and Tokyo. It also launched a consulting arm, ThinkLab, which offers customized design solutions to clients.
The library is accessible to the 12,000 current members who work in product design, packaging, fashion design, interior design, architecture and art.
“It serves a wide range of designers which allows someone who deals with space to tap into the world of materials used in fields that he or she would not have access to otherwise,” said architect and designer Peter Pawlak, who is a member of the library. “Fabrics used in fashion or car design can find a way into architecture which makes a space more versatile and allows different creative fields to merge ideas and provide a wide range of design opportunities.”
The criterion for a product to be accepted into the library comes with a rigorous judging process. “We add about 50 to 60 materials every month,” said Dr. Andrew H. Dent, VP of library research. "We probably review 200 before we get to that 50 to 60, and we have a jury review them every month to assess their innovative properties. The jury is a mix of people from different fields, so there’s a different point of view to analyze and look at the materials.”
From there, it’s a six-week process after the material is accepted into the library. Staffers write a description about the material, add it to the online database and translate it into five languages.
Finally, when the new materials are added, the same number must be bumped—usually based on popularity and age. That is the role of the library staff.
“We have 2,500 materials out on display, and that’s five years worth of materials,” said Dent. “What we thought was interesting and innovative five years ago, we may come to realize it didn’t quite work. Maybe the market isn’t interested, so it’s no longer commercially viable."
Materials that resonate most are gels and packaging materials—anything that will reduce shipping and overhead costs.
“Ecovative is a company that produces packaging molds and panels by using mushrooms which are biodegradable and environmentally friendly,” said Pawlak. “At the moment we are exploring a possibility of using its panels as acoustical material in a new restaurant we are working on. In the past, I have used metal meshes from the conveyer belts as a wall material.”
The products never totally disappear; archived materials are kept in a large vault on the premise and are recorded in the online database.
“Members can look up the materials online and they can create a folder and say, ‘I want to come in and see these 30 materials,’ and we can get them set up for them,” said Dent.
"Material Connexion is the embodiment of its name; the materials themselves are at the heart and they act as connective tissue between those who make the material and those who use them," said Laura Romanoff, Senior VP of sales and marketing for Maya Romanoff. "I love their library because the way the materials are displayed removes any preconceptions about how they ultimately can be utilized. If I show you glass beads adhered to a non-woven backing, you will see it as a wallcovering. If Material Connexion shows it to you, it could be a rug or a vanity or a restaurant menu. It's incredibly freeing."