A Material Within a Material

Week 8 _Makayla Hansen

While looking for a material this week I stumbled upon Flexicomb, which is essentially an extruded and flexible honey comb. It is an amusing material designed by pAdLAb at the Yale School of Architecture. The structure is formed by thermo plastic polymer, or polypropylene, tubes that are gathered and heated at one end which fuses them together into a honeycomb-like pattern. When manipulated, this fused side remains rigid while the other almost blooms, separating and shifting with the movement. The object can be bent, squished, and curved to create many different forms. It has a bouncy quality and is also fairly translucent which makes for interesting light fixtures.

pAdLAb explains that Flexicomb is a reevaluation of the disposable drinking straw. This comment leads me to question what the material in this case really is. What is the line that distinguishes between material and application of material? Flexicomb is referred to as a material itself, but I would think that it is in fact the result of polypropylene tubes or straws that have been misused or applied in a different way. I can see where this concept might get a little foggy and technical, but attempting to break down an object or define an objects material presents an intriguing notion.




Building Industry



One comment

  1. kneesbee

    You bring up a compelling question. Where draws the line between material innovation and material exploitation? The essential motive behind innovation is solving a problem, an ability that Flexicomb seems to lack. The Yale Institute of Architecture claims the material can be applied in sculptural installations, lighting fixtures, desktop accessories, and furniture prototypes, though none of these applications seem practical. It is almost as if the Institute created this material and had to subsequently come up with real-world applications, rather than having a specific motive in mind to drive the design of the material.

    I also found your observation of Flexicomb’s material properties intriguing. Yale’s use of polypropylene tubes is creative, but also counterproductive. Polypropylene has many practical applications, such as plastic food containers, ropes, car batteries, piping systems, etc. Using the thermoplastic polymer for a rather useless honeycomb-like fabric surely seems like material misuse, just as you mentioned.

    So to answer your question regarding the line between material and material application, the answer seems to be a fine line. If the Yale Institute of Architecture, a prestigious architecture school, can fabricate a material with little justification as to why it was created in the first place (not to mention the funds needed to produce such a material), then evidently the bar for material innovation is lower than it should be.

    By Khai Tran

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