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Els Zijlstra & Jeroen van Oostveen – Future materials

By 10-03-2019

ONE WEEK ABOUT Materials curated by MaterialDistrict
Interview by Viveka van de Vliet

MaterialDistrict is a worldwide network of innovative materials with which we can build a more beautiful, qualitative and sustainable world. The online library with over 3,000 existing materials is like a candy store for creative professionals. A rich showpiece full of materials such as 3D printed wood, latex mixed with lace, tree bark tiles, recyclable glass ceramics, handmade wallpaper of cork and hemp concrete.

There are more online materials libraries, but MaterialDistrict is the only matchmaking platform in the world where architects, designers and prescribers do not have to pay to find their material. The selected materials are also published free of charge and included as samples in the independent collection. The MaterialDistrict community is popular and now consists of more than 100,000 registered users. Els Zijlstra is creative director, Jeroen van Oostveen general manager. She is responsible for the content, executes the editorial staff of the website, scouts and curates the materials for the online library. He develops among other things the strategic and business development.

In the constant pursuit of staying visible, they think it’s time to present MaterialDistrict at the Milan Design Week, but they organize their own annual big event: MaterialDistrict Rotterdam. The fair, held in the Ahoy Rotterdam, shows in exhibitions, lectures and product presentations broad developments in the fields of architecture, interior, product, mobility, fashion, and the graphics and packaging industry.

When you ask Zijlstra about the trends and what materials the world is waiting for, she replies that she is not a trendwatcher you can ask for the latest colors, but she is exactly aware of what is happening in the materials world. ‘What people need is an equilibrium’, she says. ‘Because people are both intelligent and have to rectify the consequences of earlier behavior, both want to enhance sustainability and innovation, there is a lot of attention for biobased, recycled, circular and fair trade materials, and on the other hand for smart textiles, 3D printing and robotics.’

“I find structural trends interesting,’ she says. ‘Like materials that offer sustainable solutions that benefit the world. Residual flows are increasingly creating value. In the field of mobility more and more lightweight, strong materials are coming onto the market to support faster and less fuel-consuming means of transport, which are also communicating and interactive. 3D printing has been adopted across the sector, it provides form and production solutions in all kinds of materials – from architecture to the fashion world.’

Innovation is an artificial evolution. Successful are innovations that adapt to economic, political, cultural, technical and sustainable developments, and thus achieve positive change. They solve problems, make processes or use easier, cheaper, more comfortable and more fun. ‘For example, growing algae and seaweed is becoming a serious industry with structural potential. And would coffee ground, ‘harvested’ from coffee bars as a qualitative residual material, be the new MDF in five years time? And will all our furniture be made from our own recycled waste?’, she asks herself out loud.

The creative director also continues to find fascinating developments in biomimicry. ‘By imitating the smart nature, we can improve human applications and make them more sustainable,’ she says. ‘Nature is ingenious. A spider web is still stronger than carbon fiber, photosynthesis of plants continues to inspire science to make more efficient solar cells, and by intercepting the mutual communication of bacteria you can make antibacterial coatings.

‘The mission of MaterialDistrict ‘, says Zijlstra in conclusion, ‘is to be influential in making the world better, more beautiful and more sustainable. By showing the richness of innovative materials, making them accessible, and inspiring people to choose the best applications.’

Thanks to Connecting the Dots
Portrait by Boudewijn Bollmann