Snail poo paper and other innovations provide inspiration at Prague materials library

Library of Materials, photo: Veronika Ruppert

Snail poo paper, glowing fibre or fabrics made of metal: these are just some of the hundreds of material samples that can be found in the Library of Materials, located at Prague’s district of Břevnov. The aim of MatériO is to serve as an inspiration for students, designers and other creative professions. They can either search its online database or come to the library to be able to touch the samples stacked on its shelves.

Pavlína Jochcová,  photo: archive of MatériO
I paid a visit to the Library of Materials to meet with Pavlína Jochcová, one of the people behind the project, and I first asked her about to tell me more about its history:

“MatériO was established in the year 2000 in Paris by the young French team of Élodie Ternaux and Quentin Hirsinger and they both were, and still are, very curious about innovative materials, science, design industry.

“They believe that innovation has come from meting new materials, and this is why MatériO was created. MatériO Prague was established in 2011 by the Happy Materials company, with the help of an EU grant. So we have been around for five years now.”

So MatériO is running an online library and it also has several brick and mortar showrooms where you can look at the materials and touch them.

“That’s right. We have an online database shared by all three branch offices and then we have three showrooms where you can find physical samples of various materials…”

So where exactly are these showrooms apart from Prague?

“The flagship library is in Paris and then there is one in Brussels and Prague. Hot news is that we are planning to open two new showrooms in Asia, so we’ll soon be international.”

How many samples have you got at the moment both in the online database and here in your showroom?

“There are no good or bad materials; there are only good or bad uses of these materials.”

“In the online database there are about 7,500 samples or ID cards of materials. Here in Prague we have approximately 2,000 materials which are divided into ten groups according to the relevant material family.

“We have fabrics, metals and stones and then we have composites, papers, wood, glass, ceramics, polymers and a group named others, where we put everything from nature or some material curiosities.”

So what are some of the rarest or perhaps the most peculiar materials that you have on display here?

“For me personally the rarest material is certainly the snail poo paper, which is made of snail excrements. Another really bizarre one is a matrass made of human hair. It is actually really useful because human hair is a are great absorbent of oil pollution and it is really useful in case of ecological disasters.”

Could you perhaps show me some of the most interesting materials that you have on display in the library?

Library of Materials,  photo: archive of MatériO
“So from the fabrics, we have for example really incredible metal fabrics, which are usually used in architecture, interior design or scenography. Than we have some fabrics made of recycled pet bottles and coffee grains, this is also really interesting.”

So now we are in the paper section?

“No, this is still fabrics. We have some very traditional materials here, such as this hand-made paper made of bark-tree. It is a very old African knowledge of making this fabric.”

So you really have materials from all over the world. Have you got some materials produced here in the Czech Republic?

“We do. We have some very nice hand-made wall paper and wrapping paper and then we have for instance this glowing or luminescent fibre.

What is the most valuable material that you have in here?

“The most expensive material is this aerogel from NASA. It is a silica-based material which was originally used for spaceships collecting space dust...

“Here in Prague we have approximately 2,000 materials which are divided into ten groups according to the relevant material family.”

How do you actually search for new materials?

“It is a very hard and never ending process. Our teams have to constantly identify new materials all around the world so we regularly attend fairs and design, who browse through university press releases we collaborate with scientists, research teams, universities and manufacturers. I have to say that we are completely independent of the manufacturers, so we can guarantee our clients a very objective opinion and objective opinion on materials.”

Who are your typical clients?

“MatériO is dedicated to architects and designers as well as any other creative professionals and of course to students. Among our clients are also companies that what to innovate new products or to develop new materials. We help them to gather information and we train their design departments or research teams.”

So who are the people who come to your showroom?

“They come with hunger for inspiration, they want to touch the samples and look at various materials. They want to get an opinion and learn whether certain materials could work for their project. Some of them already come with a specific project and they need to find suitable material solution. We provide them with information and consultancy services and we also give them contacts for the manufacturers to discuss the details of their project.”

Library of Materials,  photo: Veronika Ruppert
So all the materials that are displayed here are also available on the market?

“It should be this way because it is dedicated to professionals but sometimes, because we have thousands of samples, it can happen that some materials are no longer available or they are difficult to find. But this happens very rarely.”

I believe MatériO has some very famous clients who cooperate with the libraries.

“MatériO pays attention to all its clients, students as well as big international companies. But it is true that we have some well-known clients from fashion, automotive industry, electronics and so on, such as Louis Vuitton, Chanel, Panasonic or Nokia. Other clients include Jean Nouvel architects or Philip Stark design studio, Rolex, Honda or Škoda.”

You also teach materiology courses at the University of Applied Arts in Prague. What exactly do you teach in that subject?

“We found that students usually have knowledge about materials that are commonly used in their field but when it comes to a different field, they are completely lost.

“We try to teach them everything they should know about materials in general to be able to communicate with material manufacturers and processors of materials and to be open minded to everything that is new and exceptional.”

How important is it to have this knowledge in artistic professions?

Library of Materials,  photo: Veronika Ruppert
“Of course I think material is a one of the key elements of every project. As Elodie Ternaux says, there are no good or bad materials; there are only good or bad uses of these materials. So this knowledge is something that that should help architects and designers with their work.”

What would you say are the biggest trends in the use of materials at the moment?

“There are many tendencies when it comes to material trends. I can highlight for instance quick rise of nanotechnologies and smart textiles, as well as variable technologies. On the other hand of course environmentally friendly materials and return to nature and craftsmanship. So these are the new trends nowadays.”