After a hiatus, Princeton Architectural Press have re-started Materials Monthly, in their words the “popular, build-your-own materials library subscription service that delivers the latest in materials research, from our desks to yours.” And that it does.
I’ve had a chance to look over, and pore over, issue #11, based around the theme of ‘Modern Adaptations’, and cannot fail but to be very impressed with this unique publication. Arriving in a pleasingly chunky cardboard box, the package contains actual examples of the materials discussed, alongside some well-produced loose-leaf editorial discussing them and their use, in this case historical. The ability to pick up, touch, rub and generally explore the tactility of materials is surprisingly affecting. I’ve long been espousing the virtues of senses other than sight in terms of assessing the impact of the built environment, drawing heavily from the likes of Juhani Pallasmaa, Stephen Holl, Paul Schütze, Mirko Zardini etc., but here’s a publication that actually takes that idea and delivers a sensory experience.
In The Eyes of the Skin, Pallasmaa discusses the relationship between touch, objects, memory, history and process - "The surface of an old object, polished to perfection by the tool of the craftsmen and the assiduous hands of its users, seduces the stroking of the hand … The tactile sense connects us with time and tradition … it is time turned into shape." He notes that "the skin reads the texture, weight, density and temperature of matter."
Indeed, despite only being fragments and samples, it is a revelation to feel the cool weight of the small block of pigmented structural glass, or the delight on peeling back the protective wrapper to stroke the small square of sharp, highly-polished prismatic stainless steel. This simple yet rewarding experience actually suggests that the series serves not only as a regular prompt for designers and builders, but almost as an oblique critique of the ocularcentric architectural press elsewhere.
Of course its target audience is really designers, builders and engineers, and the publication is tuned to that crowd accordingly, but you half-wonder what if other, more general magazines like Dwell, Monument, A+U, Architectural Review, Frame and Mark took this approach, perhaps as a multi-sensory special-edition every quarter.
But for now, you have to subscribe to Materials Monthly for that kind of experience. They say:
“Each issue now includes at least five material samples and spec sheets with mechanical and physical properties, life cycle analysis data, sourcing and manufacturing details, digital and prefab options, installation, maintenance, and preservation advice, and other important technical information.”
It’s well-designed for use, with pages in loose form to be bound later, and a coding system linking object to text and beyond that makes the information architect within twitch with glee (he doesn’t get out much these days, so you’ll forgive me.) Subscribing, you'd quickly build a fantastic collection of materials, and copious notes on their historial, and potential, use. With so much attention being paid to new materials - e.g. the Transmaterial series amongst others - but so little opportunity to genuinely sense them, Materials Monthly, and Princeton Architectural Press, deserve a lot of credit for this smartly realised service.
Materials Monthly (more images below)