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By Dr. Gil Dekel, and Natalie Dekel (MPhil)

Our society is constantly evolving, and with it comes an on-going need for new ideas and products that are different, sustainable, and useful for daily life.

With technological and scientific developments the process of making new products has become shorter and faster than before. While past generations seen slow changes, nowadays changes come about on an almost daily basis. As we shift from mechanical to digitised nano-technologies, products do not embody tradition or lifetime manufacturing skills, but innovation and progress. However what has not changed is the need for original thinking and ideas that come about through a combination of simplicity and unusual usage of materials in new contexts.

Materials

Materials take part in our daily experience, and act as indicators of economic productions. The choices we make in the use of materials can tell us about the level of technology employed in the production, as well as the cultural heritage and our awareness of the environment.

Current issues of exploitation of the earth’s resources coupled with waste and pollution are tackled by developments of new materials that combine the natural and the artificial. Such materials are synthetic skin and bones, and substances that repair themselves and adapt to their environment. These materials can swell and flex like muscles, repel paint, and capture and store the energy of the sun. We see less use of traditional materials such as timber, hemp, glass and metals, and more use of chemical and plastic materials that attempt to copy the properties of nature.

At the same time these substitutes cannot merely replace natural resources, rather they must be sustainable in themselves to ensure a circulation and recyclability of materials. McDonough (2004) introduces the concept of cradle-to-cradle design, where materials are not “…designed for a one-way trip to the landfill”, rather they turn into a source that aims to replenish the earth or as a high quality resource for next generation of products, once the original products cease.

'The Power of New Materials' - photo by Gil Dekel

‘The Power of New Materials’ (artwork © Gil Dekel, 2011).

In such a producer-customer-producer cycle, materials in the 21st century are custom made for the first time in history. Scientists put new materials together on the drawing table much like the process in which a house or an electronic circuit are designed (Ball, 1999).

Design

Products of the 21st century differ from previous generations in that they embrace materials for their functionality as well as their forms and colours. Materials that are sustainable, low cost, efficient and lighter are used to develop products that are attractive, colourful and durable.

The outward forms of products become smaller, organic, and simple in a direct opposition of the multitude features that the products offer. For example, while Apple’s nano ipod is simple in design and measures only approx. 1.5inch, it can connect to an online worldwide community within moments, and perform various tasks. Materials, design, functionality, and networking work together in one piece.

Intimacy

Moving away from past societies that relied on agriculture and land-related production to a society that sustains itself via digital communication, the immediate result is a sense of intimacy.

Universities, for example, are no longer seen as merely physical places to which one needs to commute in order to receive education. Instead they are now seen as a source that can be accessed from home via the internet. The student ‘invites’ the university into their own space via the web. E-books are now stored on ‘personal online’ shelves, and lectures can be ‘attended’ by online viewership from home.

Other organisations engage with clients through social networks like Facebook and YouTube, creating an intimate environment where the outside enters the personal space. Technology transforms our experience of the world into an intimate, small, mobile, and shared experience, where anyone can connect and contribute.

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Bibliography

Ball, Philip. (1999). Made to Measure: New Materials for the 21st Century. Princeton University Press. New Jersey: USA.

McDonough, William. (2004). Twenty-First Century Design. Accessed 3 November 2011, from: http://www.mcdonough.com/writings/21st.htm

© Gil and Natalie Dekel. 18 November 2011.

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