„Considerable potential for workspaces“
An interview with Sascha Peters about smart materials

Smart Office Materials

Materials expert Dr. Sascha Peters is responsible for the special exhibition “Smart Office Materials” at the upcoming ORGATEC. An Interview about the main themes of the exhibition, the importance of new materials for workplaces and office furniture made of tree bark. 

Dr. Sascha Peters, you are responsible for the special exhibition “Smart Office Materials” at ORGATEC 2016, a role you also held two years ago. What innovations will be presented at the fair? Have your areas of focus changed since the last edition of the trade fair?

Since the last ORGATEC in 2014, we have identified two fields where companies and research institutes are very active in the development of innovative materials that can play a role in modern worlds of work. The number and diversity of applications for smart materials – materials that react to external influences and environmental factors – has increased significantly. We are devoting the second focus area in our special exhibition to the intelligent use of unusual resources, in most cases natural materials that are not normally used. The exhibits include a stool made of antiseptic birchbark and construction materials made from agricultural waste products, such as rice husks, wheat straw and almond hulls.

Potato Chair Copyright: Jarrell Goh, Singapore

What do the new possibilities in materials and processing mean for applications in office architecture and furniture? What opportunities and challenges do they open up for workplace design?

The use of function-integrated materials and the intelligent use of materials give designers and architects of modern work environments the opportunity to work much more consciously with the available resources. Smart materials react automatically to changing environmental influences, and they act in people’s interest in areas such as shading, climate control, acoustics and lighting. With these materials, office design can really be stripped down to the basics. The use of materials and hence the weight of system components are reduced. It is the ideal response to the required adaptability of office environments and workplace flexibility.

The world of work has moved towards flexible office use in recent years. This also calls for new design and material concepts, for instance in terms of spatial acoustics. Where do you see the most important developments here?

Interior architects are noticeably using materials that improve the acoustics in different work situations and materials that fulfil their functions invisibly where possible. We are seeing increasing numbers of systems appearing on the market that, in addition to a space-creating component, also have acoustic properties and can influence the lighting ambience.

ADDARCH Copyright: TU Berlin, Prof. Sven Pfeiffer

“Smart” materials for work environments call for innovative forms of production. What interesting approaches are there here, and in which direction are they heading?

Without question, the most interesting development in innovative production methods is 3D printing, also known as additive manufacturing techniques. These processes are not based on conventional, material-subtractive processes, as is the case with milling, turning or drilling. Instead they work by building up or “adding” the material. The biggest advantage of additive manufacturing processes is that even complex component geometries with internal cavity structures can be implemented: these are structures that cannot be produced in any other way. When 3D printing is combined with the possibilities that digitalisation and online data transfer open up, we seem to be a step closer to individualised product manufacturing.

Dr. Sascha Peters

In addition to sustainable solutions, the compatibility of materials is also becoming increasingly important. What can “smart” materials contribute to health in the workplace?

To ensure that material developments for the interiors sector will be commercially successful, companies generally conduct health compatibility tests and occupational physiology tests. Smart material solutions are primarily applied where they have a positive impact on spatial acoustics, or where they reduce the stress levels of people in the room, or if they can have a direct effect on well-being, for example by altering the light colour. Other developments include materials that reduce the heart rate by emitting natural fragrances. In particular, there is considerable potential for smart materials in workspace climate control in extreme weather conditions.

Dr. Sascha Peters is innovation consultant, materials expert, design engineer and the founder and owner of HAUTE INNOVATION – Agentur für Material und Technologie in Berlin.

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