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Materials as the basis of design: Sitterwerk Foundation near St Gallen has a wealth of material samples from art production, restoration, architecture and design which can be used for research and inspiration – at a physical library and in the digital materials archive. Photo: Katalin Deér

With digitisation and dematerialisation on the rise, fewer and fewer people understand materials and possess a practical knowledge of manufacturing and processing techniques. At the same time, scarce resources mean that we need to develop new materials and construction technologies or rethink existing ones. An awareness of resources and a sense of social responsibility are essential if industrial design, architecture and urban planning are to keep pace with the times. All of this makes a corresponding understanding of materials just as crucial as the accompanying knowledge sharing and sensitisation.

Since it was established in 2007, the materials archive has served as a network. It currently has ten members, who tap knowledge about materials, work it up and share it with a wide audience. Information is shared and conveyed by means of the members’ physical collections. Since 2008, however, it has also been possible to access it via the content of the materialarchiv.ch portal. Recently redesigned by the Zurich-based design studio Astrom/Zimmer & Tereszkiewicz, the online archive uses a semantic data architecture to link up all of the knowledge portal’s content. It currently comprises 1,308 individual materials, 190 processes, 162 groups of materials, 1,080 examples of applications, 9 sample collections and 273 events – and it is still growing.

Each material from aluminium to alkanet (Alkanna tinctoria – a dye used in place of extremely expensive purple) is presented along with its properties, forms, and ways in which it can be processed. Its history, new insights and ecological information are explained as well. The content is authorised by experts, edited by external proofreaders, and constantly expanded, updated and augmented. From stone, glass and wood to casting techniques, 3D printing and woodworking joints, the materials archive is a fount of knowledge for anyone conducting research or seeking inspiration. Burg Giebichenstein University of Art and Design Halle recently became the first German institution to join the Swiss network.

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