Book Review: Transmaterial 2

Transmaterial 2: A Catalog of Materials that Redefine our Physical Environment (2008) by Blaine Brownell
Princeton Architectural Press
Paperback, 512 pages

Two years ago we were introduced to a catalog of materials illustrating the innovations in materials research and design. This second installment of Blaine Brownell's Transmaterial continues where the first left off, documenting about 200 more innovative materials for various architectural and other design applications. This time the emphasis is on environmentalism over technology, something observed as a general trend by Brownell, not forced by the selection of the materials and products. If anything, this emphasis is apparent but not pervasive, as if those developing and creating materials can only respond to today's "green movement" via the use of recycled materials. Naturally, more must be considered (such as energy, transport and offput, not to mention the need for such-and-such material or product to begin with) for environmental concerns to really be at the center of attention. Future volumes will illustrate if that does occur.

Other than this apparent shift in focus from technology being able to create innovative materials to technology being able to create sustainable materials, the differences between the first and second volume of Transmaterials are slight: the layouts of each book are identical, with color (blue for 1, green for 2) making a distinction between the two; the ten categories for materials are the same, and the single pages devoted to each material have the same format and the same information. This consistency is understandable, making the book's definition as a catalog that much stronger, but also giving each material equal standing; Material A is not any better than Material B, but the fact each made it into the catalog does create a sense of hierarchy with those that didn't make it.

But this consistency also reinforces some of the weak points of the book series, most notably the lack of cross references for the various materials. A list of materials and the requisite description and information on material content, application, environmental benefits, contact information, and so forth is helpful, as are the multiple indexes, but these are not as helpful as being able to connect the various materials in some way, be it by the information included or other traits. Flipping through a book with only ten categories as the main means of discovery is a bit imperfect. Of course, if cross-referencing to aid architects and designers were instituted, it would only work for a single volume (lest each previous volume be republished every time the subsequent one hits the streets), which points to the main critique of the book (one I had with the first volume): Is the book format the best for the illustration of material innovation? While Princeton Architectural Press extends the scope of Transmaterial with its Materials Monthly series -- making the materials real, tactile -- the rapid advancements in materials research and design begs for something, well, digital. Brownell's blog and its tags do a bit of cross referencing, a good start, but not enough. If PAPress can supplement its two materials compilations with something that pulls everything together into the reference for architects on the subject remains to be seen, but for these pages are great inspiration, especially for those striving to balance innovation and sustainability.


  1. does he have some ongoing blog, independent of the newsletters?

  2. Brownell's blog (linked in the book title at top, but now in the body of the review) is basically the newsletter in blog form.


Post a Comment

Comments are moderated for spam.