Smart materials for architecture

As an international network, Materia identifies trends and current needs in architecture and design. In these fields, there is a growing need for knowledge about smart materials. Already, intelligent surroundings are becoming an integral part of our lives. This is only set to increase in the future, as data collection and automation through various sensors help control our environment as well as protect and inform us.

What role do materials have in this process? How smart are current and future materials? How smart can a material be – and what is the significance of this on our environment, or in building  façades, interiors, installations, structures or foundations? It’s time to review this subject. That’s the theme of this lecture, by Materia creative director Els Zijlstra.

Interactive smart materials are those that respond to a change in the environment, such as temperature, pressure, UV radiation, magnetic field, energetic impact or moisture. In each case, and for each example, the material’s response can be different: the material could change colour, translucency, hardness, or size.

Particularly interesting are the materials which generate energy from the differing environmental conditions. Examples are piezoelectric cells, which operate under pressure, or thermo-active materials, which are based on temperature differences. Smart materials are not new. They are already being used in mechanical engineering, healthcare and the electronics industries. Still, the possibilities for architecture and design are still almost at an experimental stage.

Established examples are Kieran Timberlake with its SmartWrap, a film that replaces all the properties of an insulated wall. This has now been used in the Solos project, which is packed with smart materials. Experiments at Zurich University are similarly exciting, as are energy-generating highways and the self-regulating and spectacular sun protection by architects Decker Yeadon.

Consider solar coatings too: paint that generates energy, materials that can withstand exceptionally powerful forces by becoming hard at the moment of impact, metals and plastics with memories that return to their original shape when heated, or building foundations in Japan that counter forces generated during an earthquake – the list goes on! Many more great applications and examples will be discussed during this lecture.

You can see the entire Material Xperience 2014 speakers’ programme here.


  1. Leah says:

    Have any documents from this conference been made available to the public yet?

  2. Philip says:

    Not yet. We’re working on summaries, which will be online soon. We’re also putting up albums on and running info via @Materia.