Materials: Root of the Matter

Annabelle Filer, of the material resource SCIN, presents a selection of new materials that includes a textile from the root systems of plants


Root system domestication / Diana Scherer

The background
Diana Scherer explores the relationship between man versus the environment and his desire to control nature. Scherer’s focus is on living vegetable materials such as roots and studies the contradiction that arises when man wants to cherish nature, but also manipulate it in a reckless way.

The material
In the work Harvest, the natural network of the root system turns into an artificial textile. Scherer looks at the root system as if it were yarn or thread, working with wheat, due to its fast-growing root system. As the roots grow on to underground templates they weave or braid themselves into patterns that become the material. The 3D-printed bio plastic template dictates the form; the inspiration for these patterns comes from the geometric structures of cells, snowflakes and shells. Scherer works with biological processes and intervenes both in an intuitive and scientific way in order to control the course of the creation. Seed, soil and water are the only ingredients necessary for the process.

When the roots have grown into the desired pattern, Scherer harvests the crop, cuts the wheat down and dries the root structure. The photographs she takes of the resulting textiles are an integral part of her working process, but she also preserves the actual materials.

Together with botanist Gerard van der Weerden, Scherer is exploring the possibility of growing complete items of clothing underground. In the next step, she will attempt to eliminate soil from the process by using hydro culture to grow the roots.

The advantage
These root textiles are aesthetically beautiful but also of interest to academics because of the important role that roots play in the storage of greenhouse gases and of the potential to develop a material from a new form of natural production. Already Scherer is experimenting with other kinds of plants, such as bulrushes, that are water purifying, and astelia, that filter methane.


In Development

Solar curtain / Petra Blaisse and Textiel Lab

The background
Designer Petra Blaisse, founder of the studio Inside Outside in Amsterdam, wanted her textiles to store the sun’s energy instead of just filtering, reflecting or blocking it. Collaborating with the Textiel Lab and solar cell experts at Solar Fiber the Inside Outside team set out to tackle the technical requirements for developing an curtain at the forefront of energy-harvesting textile design.

The material
Knitted fabrics always have a degree of stretch, yet that is counter-productive for two reasons: its poor support of the conductive copper wire, which will in turn cause the curtain to sag when hung across a building’s facade. While knitted fabric is elastic and stretches under tension, the conductive copper cannot change in length. The studio found a knit that only stretched in one direction, and by knitting pockets into which the solar cells could be placed, a flexible, three-dimensional object was created. Tests were run on how to incorporate the conductive copper threads into the knitted fabric in such a way, that + (plus) and – (minus) ran separately through the surface to achieve the correct method of electricity transmission. At the same time, the curtain needed to be aesthetically attractive, as in Blaisse’s other work. After a development process of more than 20 different patterns in varied colours, materials, and properties, the result is a one-of-a-kind design.

To capture enough sunrays, the pockets that hold the solar cells (placed at a specific angle, depending on the climate) are knitted with transparent (fishing) yarn.

The solar cells are placed over the curtain’s surface, in such a way that when the curtain folds into its storage position, the cells and copper cables don’t touch.

The varying knitting patterns are produced with a computer program, which controls a 3D knitting machine. The curtain is not yet a marketable product, but rather it is the interim result of a long-term research project. Blaisse and her team are currently networking and communicating with different firms, institutions and universities to form a team – and to find sponsorship – for the next phases.

The advantage
The Solar Curtain is an aesthetic, ecological product that shows how previously unused transparent facade surfaces can be discovered as a resource, to harvest and transport energy for multiple forms of use to service a large-scale building, both inside and out.



FIVE - Recycled £5 notes / Lucentia

The background
Lucentia sources plastics at the end of their useful lives and recycles them into fresh new sheet material, embedding into them a range of discarded materials. When the paper £5 note was taken out of circulation, the firm took the opportunity to encapsulate such a unique reflection of British Heritage.

The material
This recycled plastic preserves shredded decommissioned £5 notes in the recycled polycarbonate sheets made from drinking glasses. The well-known blue tones of the £5 note mixed with the rosy pinks of the George Stephenson side look amazingly delicate and organic as they float inside the panels. These rigid panels are fabricated in 330mmx300mm tiles and in various sheet thicknesses depending on the application it will be used for. The sheet can be finished in satin gloss or matt, and a shimmer pigment can be added to create more depth. They can be applied and adapted to workplace, leisure, education, or in healthcare, as they are easy to maintain and clean. Each panel is bespoke and customised to the client.

The advantage
Recycling and repurposing waste is a common practice in architecture and design. But not only do these panels support a cleaner environment, the recycled materials that are repurposed carry the value of the original material into the creation of a new one.



Iota yarns / Iota

The background
The vision behind Iota is to establish a global movement that teaches traditional craftsmanship, empowering the unskilled and unemployed to produce unique, handmade, textile pieces.

The material
The yarn that Iota develops and works with is a combination of threads made especially for it from polyester, cotton, and acrylic. Far from ordinary commercial yarns, the results are unique in shape, construction and colouring. It uses old-fashioned techniques to produce the yarn but is inspired by modern ideas of craft and design. The yarn is aesthetically beautiful as well as strong and technically capable.

For example, the cotton gives the yarn its softness, the acrylic its volume and the polyester its shininess and strength. The signature yarn is a very narrow knitted strip that naturally tends to rolls over itself becoming a 3D tube. Its volume produces an extra thick texture full of the natural softness of the fibres, making it ideal for use in interior design. Iota makes rugs, cushions, stools and even indoor swings.

The yarn is made using rolling machines, as well as lacing and knitting machines that allow the team to control the size, colours, softness and strength of the yarn.

The advantage
Social responsibility is one of the drivers behind this project, as is to support traditional craft. But we shouldn’t underestimate the sensory capacity of this yarn that promotes an interactive way to engage with materials as a means to defy a world full of digital technology.


Toolbox Essential

Metallic Hook and Loop – Metaklett / Hoelzel-Stanztechnik

The background
Hook and loop fasteners have become commonplace features of both industry and households. However, they have one snag: they are too weak for many applications.

The material
Metaklett is a mountable and dismountable metallic hook-and -loop system that can be applied in environments where synthetic materials are not practical or efficient. This system is available in three combinations.

The first is a combination of two complementary strips of 0.2 mm-thick perforated steel with catchers on one side and holes on the other. The second variant consists of two strips with protruding brushes and hooks. Then there is a hybrid variant with one metallic side and one synthetic fleece ribbon, which is suitable to integrate with non-metallic materials such as textiles. Depending on the direction of the applied force, these fasteners can withstand a load of seven to 35 tonnes per square meter. They are also resistant to corrosion and acid and can withstand temperatures as high as 800C. Metaklett devices are very easy to secure and release, so they can be put to a wide range of uses, for example air conditioning and ventilation systems in building services, engineering and automotive construction. The best way to fasten the strips is by welding or riveting.

The advantage
Metaklett is just as easy to use as standard hook-and-loop systems but offers a wider range of capacities, including higher strength and durability. As they can be reused over and over, panels can be easily moved or replaced.



Acrysmart / HPF The Mineral Engineer

The background
Buildings with a high proportion of glass or PMMA (acrylic glass) are light and beautiful, but they have the problem of overheating, especially in the summer. ACRYSMART is a functionalised acrylic glass that changes its light transmittance depending on the ambient air temperature.

The material
ACRYSMART is a new, intelligent masterbatch for PMMA that is easy to dilute and to mix evenly into the PMMA-sheets.

These sheets then change the transmittance of light and solar radiation as a response to the ambient air temperature. On hot summer days, it switches from a transparent state (OFF) into a milky white state (ON). In the ON state, the solar energy that comes into the building is reduced as sunlight is deflected, minimising the risk of overheating. As the temperature lowers, the plastic glass becomes transparent again. Natural daylight therefore is used optimally and more efficiently. The use of daylight and solar energy can be controlled so that the energy costs for heating, lighting, ventilation and cooling are greatly reduced.

ACRYSMART creates an atmosphere that is safe for people, animals and plants and can be processed into PMMA-molding compounds using existing industrial facilities. Solid sheets, multi-wall sheets or corrugated sheets produced with ACRYSMART can be easily integrated into standard building constructions.

The advantage
Thanks to the excellent weather resistance of the base plastic material, ACRYSMART products are highly durable and, unlike conventional shading systems, there are no moving parts.

ACRYSMART products are self-regulating and so consume no electrical power, and control technology is not required.


Performance Based

Hexprotect / Awtti

The background
Hexprotect’s patented cover system is a unique product that fulfils demands for an affordable and wind resistant floating cover for outdoor liquids.

The material
Each Hexprotect tile is made of long lasting, UV-resistant, virgin, high-quality, high-density polyethylene and ensures coverage of up to 99 per cent of liquid surface. The poor heat conductivity of plastic combined with the air held within each tile results in a strong thermal insulation barrier between the liquid and the environment. Although the small air pockets in between the tiles are not sealed, they also contribute to this insulation system, reducing heat loss and light transfer.

The cover also reduces liquid loss through evaporation and prevents odour. The Hexprotect barrier, contrary to standard covers, is not an obstacle to static, moving or dipping equipment. The tiles can be easily pushed aside, with the cover adapting. In fact, the tiles will keep up with liquid level, rising, lowering and restacking themselves as needed. The tiles are also an effective wildlife deterrent.

When entirely covered, a body of water becomes unattractive to waterfowl and other wildlife such as deer, which simply do not recognise it as water. The tiles functionality is their key feature but the aesthetic is intriguing and different as the tiles float and move around the surface seemingly interconnected.

The advantage
Compared to netting, Hexprotect is not sensitive to ice or snow damage and does not require maintenance. They cannot tear like conventional membrane covers and they reduce the penetration of UV rays, inhibiting the growth of algae and weed.



Salt Pup / Salt Project

The background
The Salt Project aims to fight desertification using a biomimetic approach. The project uses locally available resources to propose an organically scalable solution that creates a positive impact on the existing ecosystem.

The material
Salt Pup is the salt-based building material that is a result of this project. The developers have been testing different recipes, reinforcements, pigments and heating processes based on their original prototype. They have evidence that the material has similar strength as other common vernacular building materials, such as rammed earth and simple masonry structures. Like its common counterparts, the Salt Pup works better with compressive as opposed to tensile forces, making it ideal for an arch, dome or shell structure.

One of the most exceptional properties is its translucency, particularly when cast or 3D-printed into thin panels, leading to potentially interesting architectural opportunities. Another natural performance attribute is the brilliance of its white colouration, reflecting the intense solar heat within the desert environments.

The obvious weakness is that it dissolves or rapidly erodes in water.

This is currently resolved by applying a protective coating to the material, although bio-based coatings and transparent tent structure to protect it, as well as covering it with materials such as reed or sand, are being looked into

The advantage
The Salt Project not only aims to turn salt into a building material, but to pump seawater to arid areas and use the sun’s energy to distil the valuable fresh water into greenhouses. The resulting salt is an exciting by-product of this closed loop ecosystem that produces no waste.

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