Book Review: Transmaterial

Transmaterial: A catalog of materials that redefine our physical environment, edited by Blaine Brownell
Princeton Architectural Press, 2005
Paperback, 240 pages

In the last few years, material research and exploration has become a popular cottage industry, spurred by firms like OMA that have developed new materials for their projects. One of the most popular proponents and catalogers of this trend is Blaine Brownell, architect with NBBJ in Seattle. Admitting that "the architect is one step removed from the physical substance that makes architecture" and "that conventional thinking about materials in architectural practice is severely limited," he started sharing his research on materials with Product of the Week e-mails that continue to this day. Nearly 200 of those materials have been compiled into this book version, split into ten material categories and further categorized by the characteristics that make each material special, such as materials that undergo a physical metamorphosis based on environmental stimuli. The range of materials presented is just amazing, ranging from the well-known light-trasmitting concrete to expandable paper walls. One may question the need for a book when materials research moves so fast, with new materials and variations introduced so frequently (In anticipation of this, PA Press also provides Materials Monthly, a subscription service geared to the fast pace of research and development). More importantly, one must wonder if new materials are responding to a need or rather creating a desire for such things? Perhaps that question will be answered as architects use these novel materials more and more in their projects.