A new space to cultivate material intelligence
By Gianfranco Chicco
Material Matters started three-and-a-half years ago as a podcast by design, craft and architecture writer Grant Gibson, with no marketing budget nor PR. Each episode features a long-form, informal conversation between Gibson and designers, makers and artists who work completely immersed in a particular material; previous guests include Yinka Ilori, Majeda Clarke and Junko Mori, to name just a few.
The podcast spread via word of mouth, accruing more than 300,000 downloads, and in doing so validating a latent need by diverse audiences to learn more about materials and our relationship with them. That’s why, together with design promoter William Knight, Gibson decided to create the physical manifestation of Material Matters for London Design Festival. Located at the Bargehouse on London's Southbank, it’s a place “for products that have been designed and manufactured with care and love, from big manufacturers to small experimental makers”.
According to Gibson, there’s a disconnect between society and our understanding of materials. “In terms of education, it's possible to go from primary school to finishing university without actually touching materials, which seems to me to be entirely wrong.” Building on the ideas articulated by writer Glenn Adamson and Professor Mark Miodownik – that understanding materials helps us understand how the world works – Gibson felt it important to create a space to cultivate material intelligence.Shifting perspectives through the lens of Material Matters, Gibson hopes “you might just appreciate the things that we are making, why we're making them, and how many of those things are not sustainable”.
Set over five floors, the space hosted installations, a marketplace, learning area and a series of talks. Among those participating was experience- driven creative agency LAYER, founded by Benjamin Hubert; gallery Ruup & Form; recycled aluminium company Hydro; furniture manufacturer Fora; and renowned artist and designer Stuart Haygarth. The common theme throughout was giving old materials a new lease of life – see Haygarth’s chandelier, for example, created from waste. Overall, the aim was that the design industry will engage with these works and gain inspiration to build more circular solutions going forward.
Shifting perspectives through the lens of Material Matters, Gibson hopes “you might just appreciate the things that we are making, why we're making them, and how many of those things are not sustainable”.