With the interactive exhibition “smart materials satellites. Material as Experiment” the Bauhaus Dessau Foundation has made it its mission to bring natural sciences, design and art to a wider audience.

Fictive materials „Mutable Drugs“ / Photo: Clemens Winkler
Fictive materials „Mutable Drugs“ / Photo: Clemens Winkler

What would Jacques Tati have had to say about smart, intelligent or clever materials? His half-amusing, half-anxiety-inducing film “Mon Oncle” rings an aesthetic alarm bell. The star of the film: a house, or, rather, the caricature of a house somewhere in a newly built neighbourhood of Paris. And this house is enormously expressive – especially at night, when its illuminated porthole windows cast searchlights on the surrounding landscape.

“Mon Oncle” was made in the 1950s. Since then, the refinements of engineering have evolved. Animistic, co-thinking buildings and mechanistic-intelligent facades are no longer the only unusual performers on the architectural stage. The so-called smart material is difficult to grasp, at least for the amateur. Fascinating and at the same time somehow remote, it has long since found its place in the praxis of architecture and design. Magnetorheological fluids, for instance, have been known since the 1940s and are in use today i.a. in the field of medical engineering for prosthetics.

Lapatsch/Unger, „Forgotten Collection“, Prozess, 2016 / Photo: Lapatsch/Unger
Lapatsch/Unger, „Forgotten Collection“, Prozess, 2016 / Photo: Lapatsch/Unger

Climate protection via intelligent design

The difficulty of integrating these kinds of materials in daily and urban life, and how rare their presence in Germany therefore is, is shown by people who work on an interdisciplinary basis, such as Allison Dring and Daniel Schwaag. Their studio Elegant Embellishments is dedicated to the question of what functional and decorative architectural elements in combination with materials can contribute to the improvement of the environmental conditions. “Germany is a risk-averse country”, states Allison Dring. The architect, who has also worked with material chemist Prof. Arne Thomas of the Technische Universität Berlin, can draw on her own experience.

Her white facade installation “prosolve 370e”, which looks a little like a vertically mounted lace doily, uses a titanium dioxide coating to purify the polluted city air. The first successful implementation was on a hospital in distant Mexico City. It is all the more astonishing that the response in Germany has been muted at best. An interested party in the Stuttgart area eventually decided against the innovation. It feared that this courageous step would in the end have pointed to a problem for which the production company was partly responsible. Progress thus becomes a problem – although “prosolve 370e”, as the name suggests, had already provided the solution.

„ShapeShift", Chair for CAAD, 2010 / ETH Zürich, M. Kretzer, E. Augustynowicz, S. Georgakopoulou, D. Rossi. S. Sixt

„smart materials satellites“

For the country of origin of the Bauhaus, a place of experiments and innovations, these are thought-provoking circumstances. Germany evidently still struggles with the relaxed and positive approach to visions and innovations – and this alone is surely a theme for an exhibition. Over the next three months in Dessau, the exhibition “smart materials” will show what is already possible today in the worlds of architecture, art and design.

Together with the Weißensee Kunsthochschule Berlin, with the interactive exhibition “smart materials satellites. Material as Experiment” the Bauhaus Dessau Foundation has made it its mission to bring the current state of knowledge from the natural sciences, design and art to a wider audience.

The exhibits include works by the designers Paula van Brummelen, Clemens Winkler, Manuel Kretzer and Lapatsch/Unger and by the artists Marit Wolters and Wagehe Raufi, who began the first research residency of the SYN Award | sms in June. Since then they have been working on their concepts in the Muche/Schlemmer House in the complex of Masters’ Houses in Dessau. They will be at work throughout the duration of the exhibition as part of their Bauhaus residency.

The exhibition is located in the Steel House, built in Dessau-Törten in 1926/27 as a material experiment by the Bauhauslers Georg Muche und Richard Paulick. This worthy setting provides the ideal framework to ask questions such as: What makes a material intelligent? How do smart materials influence our lives? How can we use them to shape a more intelligent and sustainable future?

Paula van Brummelen, „Responsive Surface
Paula van Brummelen, „Responsive Surface", 2016 / weißensee kunsthochschule berlin, Text- und Flächendesign, Paula van Brummelen

Material as Experiment

In the exhibition, the “Materials Weeks” format will evoke the material experiments of the Bauhaus. A touch of the ‘workshop feeling’ is likewise part of the concept: the exhibition has the ambience of a research laboratory. The visitors thus have the opportunity to pitch in. They will be able to participate in experiments and also speak with experts. And, true to the collaborative Bauhaus spirit, their contributions will become part of the exhibition. In this way, the collective research results will grow steadily over three months.

The Bauhaus could hardly be called risk-averse. The exhibition “smart materials satellites: Material as Experiment” evokes the cultural asset of the Bauhaus and provides new impulses for a public keen to experiment. Jacques Tati would surely have had his fun with the exhibition.



smart materials satellites. Material as Experiment

13 July – 22 October 2017
Wed–Sun, 12–6 pm
Free admission
Steel House, Dessau-Törten Housing Estate


[ÖÖ 2017, Translation: RW]]


[1] http://www.fassaden-blog.de/interview-allison-dring-elegant-embellishments/