MNP Interviews : Blaine Brownell


ArchitectureMNP recently had the opportunity to have a brief email-interview with Blaine Brownell – architect, ninja, and author/editor of the fantastic material investigations/catalogs Transmaterial + Transmaterial 2 [read our review here].

ArchitectureMNP: What first got you interested in studying/cataloging materials?

Blaine Brownell: I had the chance to research materials for my first significant architecture project after graduate school. Despite my interest in the subject, I didn’t have much prior preparation for the job, and I felt that it was difficult to find high-quality and objective information about many materials. As the design came to a close, I was also concerned about the future of the materials knowledge base our team had developed after much effort. Would it simply be shelved away with the drawings and specifications, I wondered? I decided then to start a simple database of the most interesting materials to share with colleagues, so that this wisdom could enhance other project efforts in addition to our own.

MNP: Do you view your books [and website] as tools to aid in selecting materials for projects, or more of a means to educate people about the possibilities varying materials present to designers?

BB: Both. The Transmaterial project is not only intended to assist practicing designers in selecting innovative materials, but also to inspire a broader audience with regard to the many opportunities available. I hope that clients also get excited about new materials, for example, so that the process of innovation can be more meaningful and collaborative for all involved.

MNP: Are your books collections of materials you’ve featured in you ‘Product of the Week’ newsletter, or are is all the content new?

BB: Yes and no – newsletter materials do find their way into the books, but the process of creating a book is its own project, and many of the materials featured there are new.

MNP: As someone who spends a lot of time on these here internets looking for interesting projects + content, I’m incredibly impressed with how many products you’ve collected in the books – could you discuss your ‘method’ for finding content?

BB: I obtain information from just about any source – books, magazines, manufacturers, websites, etc. The most important source, however, is often the Transmaterial audience. I have received some of the most intriguing product suggestions from recipients of my emails or visitors to my website. This network also shares information very rapidly, before it appears in other periodicals or books.

MNP: Did you alter these ‘methods’ in any way for Transmaterial 2?

BB: No, although I wrote Transmaterial 2 while living in Tokyo, so there are a few more Japanese materials in this volume due to my exposure to them.

MNP: How does a material ‘make the cut’?

BB: The material may not be something that is in conventional use, and it also must have the potential to transform the constructed environment (or the process of making it) in a significant way.

MNP: How do you feel about material use in today’s design fields – architecture in particular?

BB: Architecture is typically the most limited field with regard to material use, due to the inherent scale, liability, and single end-product nature of the discipline (as opposed to mass-production in industrial design). However, environmental concerns and the increasing knowledge about technological innovation in architecture are transforming the field in a fundamental way.

MNP: To follow-up on the previous question – how do you think these new + innovative materials can become more integrated into everyday design and construction? [Can they?]

BB: Architects have an unprecedented opportunity to provide significant and critical leadership in this area. I believe that innovative materials and design approaches that promise a more environmentally-healthy and creatively-imagined world will find their way into everyday design and construction, because we have little other choice.

MNP: What’s the most interesting material you’ve recently discovered? [read: what’s your favorite new material?]

BB: One of my students at the University of Michigan is developing a material with varying reflectivity, refractivity and opacity across a graduated surface. She hasn’t given a name to the product yet, but the idea could revolutionize building skins in the future.

MNP: How do you envision the future of what has now become a series of Transmaterial books?

BB: The number of new material possibilities for design and construction continues to increase, and the Transmaterial books celebrate those possibilities that have the greatest potential for change. As trends such as environmental design, nanotechnology, and biomimicry continue to garner more interest, I imagine the Transmaterial project will continue providing architects and designers with valuable and relevant information.

::Special ArchitectureMNP thanks go to Blaine Brownell for taking the time to converse with us – and for his thought provoking books + weekly newsletter. Special thanks also to our ninja Russell from PAPress for putting us in touch::

Posted: March 8th, 2008
at 6:20pm by orangemenace

Categories: architecture,tech,featured ninjas,interview

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