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The development of new materials that have increased performance and functionality has become a major driver of innovation in recent years. According to the Industrial Technologies arm of the Research and Innovation department of the European Commission, it is estimated that 70% of all new product innovation is based on materials with new or improved properties. These emergent materials and their associated technologies are changing the way that architects and designers work and the way that we as consumers are engaging with the buildings and products that surround us.

Dr Sascha Peters is an innovation consultant and materials specialist from Germany. Peters is CEO of Haute Innovation, a company that focuses on shorting innovation processes and providing material-technical innovations for faster conversion into marketable products. He is also the author of the book Material Revolution: Sustainable Multi-Purpose Materials for Design and Architecture.

Freshome caught up with Dr. Peters to ask him exactly what materials will be revolutionizing the market in 2012. He kindly agreed to share with us 10 of the materials that feature in his book. These are materials that Peters believes will be making an impact in architecture and design. Below he explains the materials and their potential uses.


Whereas to date concrete has been used for solid objects, whose formal language is strongly limited by a minimum wall thickness, today completely different results can be achieved with ultra high-strength concrete (e.g. Tim Mackeroth FALT lamp). Thanks to special mathematical modeling procedures, the optimum particle density can be set for the particular application. By adapting the cement content, the water film density can be significantly reduced by up to 40%. The compression strength is considerably increased. The use of costly additives is unnecessary and material costs are reduced by up to 35%. Ultra high-strength concrete has enormous CO2-reducing potential. Moreover, the higher packing density raises resistance to external influences.


What are commonly referred to as Neptune balls, which are made of matted seaweed fibers, can also be used without additives as an insulating material with natural fire prevention properties (B1). The organic brown material can be found washed up on beaches. As it contains hardly any salts and no proteins it does not rot and the fibers are not harmful to the human organism. With thermal conductivity of just 0.037 W/(mK), sea balls are highly suitable for building insulation (e.g., in roofs and timber structures.) They are sold as a commodity under the brand name NeptuTherm.


These high-strength hollow spheres offer an option for flexibly filling non-rigid geometrical shapes. They are produced on the basis of EPS spheres. In an air-suspension coating process, these are coated in a suspension made from metal or ceramic powder, binding agents and water, and subsequently heated. The polymeric material evaporates, and what remains are hollow spheres made of metallic or ceramic material. Thanks to this production principle, any material that can be sintered is suitable for processing. The materials properties can be influenced as regards the thickness and porosity of the outer surface as well as the base shape. On account of the high porosity and the many surfaces that interact, the thermal conductivity of hollow spheres is considerably lower than that of solid materials. To achieve particular properties, other materials can be injected into the existing hollow sphere. Given the geometry of the sphere, hollow sphere structures boast pressure-resistant and rigid characteristics. Hollow spheres are 4070% lighter than solid-state ones.


Whereas in fiber and particle-reinforced plastics, improvement to the characteristics and increased strength are achieved by embedding fibers or particles from a material other than that used for the matrix, improvements to the quality of self-reinforced thermoplastics tend to be achieved by aligning the molecular structure in semi-crystalline areas in the plastic structure. The characteristics of self-reinforcing thermoplastics are comparable with those of fiberglass-reinforced plastics. Strength and rigidity levels are several times higher than those of conventional thermoplastics. Self-reinforced thermoplastics also have greater impact strength, are more stable when exposed to high temperatures, and more wear-resistant. Expansion caused by heat is only half as much. One advantage is the possibility of pure recycling. Furthermore, self-reinforcing thermoplastics weigh less than fiberglass-reinforced plastics.


Polymers or composite materials made from plastics, which change their volume (that is, contract or extend) when subjected to an electrical charge, are referred to as electroactive plastics. In development laboratories work is currently being conducted, for ex- ample, on the vision for an artificial muscle. Using morphing materials, researchers aim to change the shape and properties of an aircraft. In the process they are pursuing various approaches, whose structure and way of functioning differ substantially from one another.


In order to avoid using valuable tropical woods and thus felling rain forests, techniques have been developed in recent years to make the wood from coconut palm plantations suitable for the furniture industry and for flooring. Coconut wood has no annual rings. It is characterized by its spotted structure from which the Dutch manufacturer Kokoshout derived the name Cocodots. As the wood is significantly harder at the periphery of the trunk (outer 5 cm) than on the inside, it is primarily this wood that is used for material production. Coconut wood only shrinks and swells minimally and is harder than oak. Coconut wood composites consist of a 1218 mm thick MDF-core, to which coconut wood is applied.


While ecological materials already focus on the use of natural fibers as a reinforcing material and natural materials in composites, a number of researchers and manufacturers are now working on production processes that enable materials to be grown organically (e.g. ecovative design). Fungal species come into play here, for example those able to solidly bind organic waste materials. Crude oil is not required. The organic manufacturing process is based on the cellulose found in natural waste products such as the husks of rice and wheat, as well as on lignin as a binding matrix material. A new process utilizes the growth principles of the thread-shaped myzelium of fungi, which in nature usually colonizes on solid substrates such as wood, soil and organic waste, to produce hard foams naturally. The fungi form a network of microscopically small threads, which solidly binds the various organic waste materials.


Polylactic acid or polylactide (PLA) is one of the most important bio crude plastics in the current sustainability debate, as its proper- ties are comparable with those of PET. Generally speaking, bio crude plastics cannot be used directly, but through compounding are mixed with aggregates and additives to suit their specific purpose. Although the material was discovered as early as the 1930s, it has only recently been produced on a large scale, by NatureWorks.


Retro-reflective surfaces are primarily used in fields where safety is an issue, and in fashion. Typical applications include reflective patches for cyclists and security staff. Retro-reflective fabric is also very popular in shoe design. In art, the material was discovered only recently. Reflective concrete, currently being developed under the name BlingCrete, is intended to be used for marking edges and hazardous areas (e.g., steps, platforms) and designing integrated building guidance systems and large structural elements. Given its special feel it can also be used in tactile guidance systems for the blind.


In 2008, a light-transmitting wood composite material with a similar structure was launched under the Luminoso brand. Fiberglass mats are layered between thin wooden panels and bonded using cold PU glue. The surface is completely sealed. The choice of wood, space between layers, and strength of the luminous fabric can influence the degree of light permeability. The wood used for backlit paneling and dividers in interior spaces and trade fair stands must be absolutely flawless, so as not to disturb the overall impression. A picture that is placed behind the composite panel will be transferred to the other side once it is lit from the rear. Even films can be projected on to the material.


Freshome would like to thank Dr. Sascha Peters for introducing us to these innovative materials and for giving us a sneek peek into his book. For anyone who would like to find out more about how these and other innovative new materials are revolutionizing design and architecture, Dr. Peters’ book is available to buy here. You can also keep up to date with new developments in material innovation by reading Dr. Peters’ online magazine.

We’d love to hear what you think about these innovative materials and if you have come across any others you think we should know about. Please leave us a comment below.