For designers, going beyond a material’s intended purpose means giving their creativity free rein and generating ideas for applications that are not immediately feasible. The ideas competition for SLENTITE® high-performance insulating material gave 150 international students an opportunity to explore new horizons.
Designers, architects and interior architects don't tick the same way as chemists and engineers. How they see materials and products is dictated by totally different demands. But things get exciting when a chemical company invites the interior architects and designers of the future to engage with a new product. Designers, architects and interior architects don't tick the same way as chemists and engineers. How they see materials and products is dictated by totally different demands. But things get exciting when a chemical company invites the interior architects and designers of the future to engage with a new product. This is precisely what BASF has just done and, together with the University of Applied Sciences in Stuttgart, launched an ideas competition for new, high-performance insulation SLENTITE®.
150 students from different countries had the chance to attend a workshop to find out about the material, come up with ideas for future applications, and work with it in three dimensions. The participants were given a week to investigate the special qualities of polyurethane, its properties and its processability at first hand and explore the material's potential. To facilitate a more precise understanding of what the insulating material is all about, the workshop kicked off with a detailed explanation of the chemistry and unique features of the novel aerogel. Dr. Marc Fricke, whose team developed SLENTITE® and who is currently accompanying the material into the pilot phase, presented it at the BASF Design Factory in Ludwigshafen. "Although we have been concerned with the product for many years, we certainly haven't yet identified all the possible applications and potentials," he reports. "It's therefore all the more exciting for BASF, here on the interdisciplinary level, to experience new and maybe even unconventional approaches. "The countdown then started. Working in small groups, the students had four days to plan, design and build. All the results were to be presented and assessed on the last day of the project week.
For the participants it was an intense and busy week. "For the students it is important to know that this is an open process," stresses Professor Klaus-Peter Goebel, Director of the Department of Interior Architecture and initiator of the project at the University of Applied Sciences in Stuttgart. In other words, conceptual approaches and creative ideas have to be repeatedly reviewed in the small groups and alternatives considered in order to arrive at a presentable result. SLENTITE® is a totally novel high-performance product that will be coming onto the market in a few years. It is produced as a robust panel that can be processed like conventional materials. "The task seemed very difficult at first," a student tells on the first day of the workshop. "The material is totally unfamiliar, but its function is clearly defined, so traditional ideas are already there to work with." Creativity and teamwork were called for more than ever because, as Goebel puts it: "As a designer you also have to learn to think and communicate out of the box and go beyond the immediate boundaries.” As a source of further inspiration, there was a lecture midway through the workshop by the French philosopher and art critic Jean-Louis Poitevin, who was also attending the design project with students from Paris. On various levels Poitevin illuminated the relationship between skin and wall and delivered a fascinating analysis highlighting the psychological, esthetic and ethical aspects of the concept of wall. Ample food for thought for participants and a wealth of inspiration for further design ideas. Be it in the university workshop, at the drawing board or at the computer, the students made use of all opportunities for visualizing their ideas for SLENTITE®.
A wonderful week comes to an end. The students have given all they’ve got, and the professors are on their last legs – that’s just how it should be! Everything went off beautifully in cooperation with BASF.
The tension mounted as the end of the week approached. While participants were working flat out to complete their designs on time, supervisors and guests waited impatiently and full of anticipation to see the outcome. There were plenty of surprises, amusing ideas, interesting designs and exciting lines of thought. The proposals ranged from a cycle trailer that can also serve as a mobile home, via a multicultural bus stop through to.a portable heat box. Taking up the current refugee situation, SLENTITE® was also presented as a modular clip+click unit for emergency accommodation, which the students dubbed "temporary connections". Great attention was also devoted to details. What is the best way to connect panels? What visual scope does the material offer, which surface structures are conceivable, and how about combining it with other materials? Maybe the SLENTITE® panels can be folded together for use as a lightweight, slim material for changing cubicles or as a portable sport box that can even be set up in the office. Interesting possibilities were yielded by the "zip it" idea where SLENTITE® elements are joined together zipper-like and put up and taken down like a tent. In the end, two designs made the running. The Pentaglue project responded particularly to the product's properties and joined pentagonal panels together to form modern igloos in a polyhedral configuration. Usable as a pop-up store, shelter or exhibition room. The second winning design developed the formal geometry of room architecture further and brought forth a design with various dome structures. This imaginative design is certain to be a real eye-catcher in public presentations of all kinds. Looking back, the participants and initiators were delighted with the new ideas resulting from the in-depth preoccupation with the material and sharing ideas. Which only goes to prove that not only is it worth bringing different viewpoints together, but that this can also give rise to totally new visions.
During the student competition on innovative SLENTITE®, the students had a week’s time to come up with and present their ideas. Klaus-Peter Goebel, Head of the Department of Interior Architecture at the University of Applied Sciences in Stuttgart and project initiator, looks back at the various stages, development steps, the creative process and the associated emotions.
KLAUS-PETER GOEBEL: By its very nature as an insulating material, SLENTITE®’s limited expressiveness poses a special challenge to us as designers. This is also what gave the competition its special quality. As the product isn’t on the market yet, it was up to the students to find new solutions or fields of application, render them in three dimensions and present the outcome. So you can say the route taken is part of our goal.
KLAUS-PETER GOEBEL: For all of us, this is an interdisciplinary teaching unit, as we’re designers and not chemists. But this just makes the whole thing more exciting – cooperation with BASF went off beautifully. We professors pushed the students again and again. This really is a powerful creative process in which we try to steer the students and help them find out where the journey is taking them. The technical language of the intercultural students is English – and when language becomes a barrier, they draw or build a model of what they’re trying communicate.
KLAUS-PETER GOEBEL: The creative week that we’ve just finished was great fun. The kick-off was of course in Ludwigshafen at BASF, with the talk by Dr. Fricke – we call him the inventor as he’s the man who got us thinking. In the course of the week, there was then an interim presentation by the students. This was a chance for them to show us their research focuses and the ideas they wanted to implement. At the same time, Wednesday was also a “vale of tears”, because now the teams, who had been working until then in isolation, could see for the first time what the others were up to. But on Friday, there were smiling faces all around at the final presentation and the winners were thrilled to get their certificates. After the victory ceremony, there was of course a farewell party in the university’s workshops to let off steam after work and round off the successful week together.
Biography in brief
Having studied Interior Design at FH Kaiserslautern in the 1970s as well as Interior Architecture at Stuttgart’s Staatliche Akademie der Bildenden Künste from 1978 to 1982, Klaus-Peter Goebel holds two diplomas and started his own office in 1982. Since 1997 he is a professor at the Faculty for Architecture and Design at Stuttgart’s Hochschule für Technik, becoming dean for the Bachelor program in Interior Design in 2005.