I think I have met the ultimate materials girl. Annabelle Filer, architect, journalist and founder of the SCIN Gallery (pronounced skin) is passionate about materials. While working as an architect Annabelle developed a fascination, even addiction, for materials, their properties and practical applications. While she continues regular contributions to FX Design magazine (and formerly Grand Designs Magazine), four years ago SCIN was launched to show and share this passion and encyclopaedic knowledge of materials.
SCIN source and advise on finishes for every surface inside or outside buildings of every scale. Working with materials experts sourcing from around the world, SCIN’s sphere of knowledge reaches to the limits of current research, and if SCIN can’t find what their clients are looking for they can work with them to develop it. SCIN is committed to introducing more materials with ‘green’ credentials, and “fundamentally believe that environmental or sustainable design heralds a new era in architecture and design”. So after whetting my appetite at the Surface Design Show, I headed to the SCIN Gallery to learn more.
The ground floor is dedicated to new material design. First to catch my eye were some bowls (pictured right) made out of ‘decafé’ a material created by Raúl Laurí from used coffee grounds. Alongside was Coleoptera, a bioplastic made from dead beetles, developed by Aagje Hoekstra. The shells of the beetles, a by-product of the animal food industry, contain chitin. After cellulose, chitin is the most common polymer on earth and, with a little chemistry, is transformed into chitosan which bonds better and is already being made into jewellery. From insect to marine life and exotic leathers made from salmon, perch, wolffish and cod fish skins by Icelandic tannery, Atlantic Leather. Other exhibits included Denimite, a cotton fibre bio-composite made from recycled denim suitable for countertops and architectural applications and Soilid (pictured left). Made from a mixture of soil, fungi and other natural materials left overnight at room temperature to “rise”, the mixture can then be poured into a mould and baked becoming strong enough sand, saw or drill.
The first floor showcases architectural materials, such as Polluted Pattern (pictured right). A concrete surface printed with a photo-catalytic white i.active cement based on TX Active nanotechnology that self-cleans and breaks down air-pollutants. Over time, the printed sections stay pristine, while pollutants discolour the unprotected areas revealing the printed lace-like pattern, a metaphor for pollution wrapping our cities. The material would be suitable for urban surfaces, pavements, facades.
The installation ‘The Forest Commissioned’ displayed some leading wood products including Accoya, a high-performance wood created from softwood using a proprietary non-toxic acetylation process that gives it the dimensional strength and durability make its suitable for windows, cladding and other architectural uses. Showered with eco-labels including FSC, PEFC, and Cradle to Cradle™ to name but three, Accoya is made from renewable sources, fully-recyclable, and looks good to boot. It is distributed in the UK by Lathams. UPM Grada is a new thermoform able wood made from FSC or PEFC rotary cut birch veneers and non-formaldehyde adhesive.
Interiors products occupy the second floor. Marbelous Wood (pictured at the top of the page) and Green Hides (pictured right) were just two of the exhibits currently on display. Marbelous Wood, from the Danish Snedker Studio, uses an old marbling technique to create an organic and colourful play on the natural grain of the wood. A decorative reinterpretation of a flooring choice favoured by many. Green Hides‘ Ecolife Italian leathers are processed with chrome-free, natural vegetable tanning and solvent-free finishing methods to meet stringent technical specifications that mean they are suitable for home and contract clients.
If the temporary installations are not inspiration enough, the basement is home to a permanent materials library. The SCIN library is a colourful and tactile treasure trove with thousands of samples catalogued by material and property in bright orange boxes. Solid wool and paper stone I have seen before, but insulation made from seaweed was a surprise. NeptuTherm (pictured left) is an insulation material made from neptune grass seaweed that has become matted together into balls in shallow water. Often considered a waste product, in fact, without chemical treatment this material is naturally flame retardant, mould resistant and helps regulate humidity without degrading its thermal insulation capacity. Seaweeds’ wonderful properties extend far beyond sushi and face creams!
And finally a product that is simply joyful, if not immediately robust enough for a home with two small children, but if I could, I would find a place for some decorative Organoids panels (pictured right). Natural fibres (in this case rose petals and rose buds) are ground up and mixed with a natural binder, then covered with a vacuum film, compressed and hardened to make a biocomposite that is 100% biodegradable. The decorative panels are a sensual experience, the aroma of the rose buds, texture of the panel and visible rosebuds a reminder of the natural materials. The process is entirely free of biocides, plasticisers and solvents and powered with 100% green electricity.
So whether wrestling with the refurbishment of a Victorian terrace house or in search of a supernatural material to make a car fit for James Bond, the library is a rich repository of innovative, practical and green materials. Architects, designers and consumers are all welcome to have a rummage, by appointment. You too could get addicted!
Picture credits: Raúl Laurí