A Minnesota architect illuminates the future of built environments: BTN LiveBIG

Fraunhofer Institute for Wood Research

A Minnesota architect illuminates the future of built environments: BTN LiveBIG

Blaine Brownell is more than an architect and a professor at the University of Minnesota: he’s a researcher of emerging materials. For those not in the business of building, that is the class of new materials being developed and tested to supplant or supplement the current stable of products which compose our built environments. Often these items are cleaner, greener, stronger and more efficient than their more common counterparts.

In his recent book Transmaterial Next (Princeton Architectural Press, 2017,) Brownell explores the frontier of materials research and fabrication. There he finds a galaxy of substances, technologies and intelligent components that are informing the design decisions of architects, engineers, industrial designers and builders around the world.

Front cover of Transmaterial Next by University of Minnesota professor and architect Blaine BrownellTransmaterial Next – part of Brownell’s larger Transmaterial series – is broken down in catalog form: concrete, mineral, metal, wood and biomaterials, plastic and rubber, glass, paint and coatings, fabric, light and digital. Biomaterials, such as polymers reinforced with artichoke thistle fibers and wood foam, mark a larger trend of looking toward the natural world for structural and substantive ideas and elements. Transparent solar panels – discussed here in a 2017 article – seek to integrate sustainable design as seamlessly as possible into our daily lives.

While the various materials and technologies discussed in Transmaterial Next are far from common place today, the book serves as a sort of grand showcase of what could be. Some ideas are priced beyond reach currently, some have yet to prove feasible on a large scale, but all point to areas where change is needed.

In addition to his books, Brownell runs Transstudio, a firm which specializes in design, research and education centered around transformative materials. From workshops and publications to prototypes and speculative architecture projects, Brownell and Transstudio are furthering the study and application of the materials which will come to shape our future.

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