Home News ‘Memory materials’ could lead to shape-shifting furniture

‘Memory materials’ could lead to shape-shifting furniture

by Archives October 19, 2005

EDMONTON (CUP) — We’re all familiar with “the three R’s”- reduce, re-use and recycle-but the work of University of Alberta’s Tim Antoniuk in industrial design may just add a fourth “R” to the expression: re-morph.

The researcher and his team are making furniture and household accessories out of memory plastic, a high-tech material invented by NASA that can be re-morphed and shape-shifted to create new designs.

“I’ve been looking at how we can make current levels of consumption more sustainable. Even the use of green material still takes lots of energy and resources. This is where these morphing, shape-shifting materials have come in,” Antoniuk said.

The idea behind Antoniuk’s designs is that people could buy items just once in their life, then continue to use the material to create different forms of the products, or even new objects, to suit their changing needs and desires.

“Say you had a tray made of this material: you could put it in warm water and the memory plastic would go clear and soft. You could then put your fist in it and make it into a vase, a plate, or something else, and it will dry into that new form. Once you’re bored with that form, you put it back into warm water and it goes perfectly flat again: you could do this an endless number of times,” he said.

Antoniuk, who has been involved in both the academic and business ends of furniture and home accessories, emphasized that striking a balance between sustainability, economics and aesthetic viability is a key component to his research.

“We want to look at society on a very deep level, and try to subtly start to shift actions, and companies are obviously major social shapers,” he said.

“Most companies will say that there comes a point where there’s only so much they can do: they can do things that are better and more sustainable, but they cost more, or sometimes consumers just don’t take to it. Those are the very pragmatic realities of business, and I don’t want to ignore that.”

He believes that materialism is largely a North American phenomenon, and that marketing his team’s concept and products to groups and companies that have a large cultural, influence is important in order to shift that ideology.

“Material isn’t the problem: the problem is people’s approach to consumption, and to how it makes them feel good about their quality of life. That’s the key foundation of this project: asking, ‘What is it to live a good life?'” Antoniuk said.

“We’re looking at [the North American ideology] as being a social issue, not a material issue: the latter is always a part of what we do as industrial designers, but using memory materials is not exclusively the solution. I’m also looking at the opportunities for re-shaping society,” he said.

Antoniuk’s products have been showcased in prominent trade shows, including “100% Design” in London. Currently, he has a table as part of an exhibit for professors of Art Design in the U of A’s Fine Arts Building. His next big display will be at the International Contemporary Furniture Fair in New York, the largest trade show of its kind in North America.

As he showcases his products in consumer and business-based venues, he exposes people to his vision of a world where re-morphing is used as a tool to achieve environmental sustainability, without compromising aesthetics or desire.

“My great grandma did quilting, and she used to re-use things like drapes or clothing, and she’d quilt and create these stunning works of art that were unbelievably beautiful,” Antoniuk said.

“What I’m proposing is that kind of concept taken to a whole new level: each person would only have so many hundreds of thousands of pounds of material that they would ever need in their whole life. The idea of sacrifice could potentially be gone: they could just constantly re-use their materials and still make them desirable.”

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