Steffen Reiter

Material Computation


Beginning with today’s technological options a move can be detected in the design process away from the traditional route of simply choosing the material and towards the design-initiated generation and manipulation of material. In other words, design methods already come into play in the development of the materials. This opens up diverse approaches on the macro, meso and micro-levels and in their overlap; these result from the properties specific to the respective materials and how they are processed especially by including the properties in the programming. After all, given the options provided by digital, parametric generative design tools and new computer-driven manufacturing technologies such as additive production methods it is conceivable to consider programmable, physical dynamic material (see 4D-printing, Voxel).

The divide between materials and the digital is becoming increasingly more porous – terms like (post-)digital materiality, physical computing or computational composites are the result of this new linkage of code and material. Consequently, materials act partly as software and can realise different functions depending on the programming code. Artefacts come about as the emergent agglomerations of specifically employed multi-dimensional “material pixels”.

One aspect of the project is to explore the question of how material systems can be programmed so that functions (actuator and sensor technology) can be specifically and precisely controlled and implemented. The role models here are not least of all structures and processes of self-organising biological systems. By controlling the embedding of information in a material structure self-active, adaptive properties can be produced in it effectively blurring the divide between artefact and organism. I will first examine the potential of this approach and then summarize the insights as regards theory formation. I shall then analyse selected examples from design history so as to highlight the nucleus of programmable materials. The results will be placed in relation to existing theories of human-object interaction with an emphasis on the material itself and its articulation.

Moreover, it is necessary to consider the design process within the aforementioned contexts; after all, how can designers, for example, represent dynamic and time-dependent material behaviour in static design drawings? The practical part of the project will involve generating designs and prototypes that serve as a basis and enable a reflection on human-object interaction using empirical methods with regard to current technologies and design processes but also the practical applications of mingling the digital and analogue. Based on this analysis I shall explore possible expansions and updates that do justice to the altered conditions with a view to modifying the theoretical models and complementing them with regard to materials.


Prof. Dr. Markus Holzbach

Prof. Dr. Klaus Klemp