i+D - May/June 2021 - 31

The Future of Materials - By Diana Mosher
The green chemistry movement seeks to create only new
chemistry that will not negatively affect human health;
however, Ruth and other material specialists note that it will
take legislation to regulate toxic chemicals out of our homes.
In the meantime, organizations like The Environmental Work
Group are building consumer awareness (with the tagline:
" know your choices " ) about the issue of toxins in the products
they purchase.
A design-led research lab committed to raising awareness
about toxins in building products, the Healthy Materials Lab
is a group of 10 to 15 people who " do research and translate
the scientific information into easy-to-understand information
that designers and architects can absorb into their practice, "
according to Ruth. The Healthy Materials Lab works closely
with the Green Science Policy Institute, an organization
dedicated to identifying the most toxic classes of chemicals and
lobbying for manufacturers to remove those chemicals from
building products. This collaboration also informs the selection
of impressive materials at The Donghia Healthier Materials
Library, which is for art and design students at Parsons and The
New School, but all material enthusiasts are welcome. This
academic library has also hosted schools from other cities and
other countries.
" The next generation of architects and designers need to
understand that the materials they design with have an impact
on human health and on planetary health, " says Ruth, who
adds, " Being at a university allows us not only to educate the
next generation but also current practitioners through our work
in the lab and the library. " An online certification program for
professionals already practicing architecture or design teaches
about material health, the way it impacts people, which
chemicals are harmful, and how to implement change in
one's practice.
Knowledge of working with lime plaster is passed
down through the generations in India where the
healthy material is often finely carved and extremely
smooth. Shown here is a detail from Junagarh Fort in
Bikaner, Rajasthan, India.
(Image: Courtesy of Jonsara Ruth)
Research into healthier alternatives to the toxins
in modern materials like paint led Jonsara Ruth
to a global exploration into lime and other
options. Lime plaster is breathable, resists mold,
is naturally anti-microbial, and gets more durable
over time. Shown here is a window detail in
Kurashiki, Japan, where examples of lime plaster
date back to the early 1600s.
(Image: Courtesy of Jonsara Ruth)
Bridging the
Knowledge Chasm
With so many educational resources available, why are
architects and designers not doing a consistently better job
at specifying sustainable materials? " I call it the knowledge
chasm, " says Jeff Frost, project manager and materials
specialist at Brightworks Sustainability, a consulting firm
founded in 2001. " By and large, as an industry, we have not
done a very good job of helping our colleagues translate all of
that information into how to make a better product selection. "
According to Frost, presentations with A&D firms tend to talk
about certifications and standards like LEED, WELL, and the
Living Building Challenge. Beyond that, there's no manual or
guidance as to how these initiatives can pair with each other,
and items are grouped together inaccurately. For example,
Cradle to Cradle, Declare, and Red List are different from each
other and function completely differently.
" We've gone from [talking about] recycled content and low
VOCs in the early days to Ph.D.-level information that's coming
out around health, carbon, circularity, water waste, and social
issues, " adds Frost. " It is nearly impossible to translate all that
information back to designers, and so this knowledge chasm
gets bigger and bigger every year. "
Jonsara Ruth
(Image: Serling)
Frost is co-founder of the mindful MATERIALS Library, a
national initiative developed by and for the building industry to
help find healthy and environmentally sound products. He has
also worked with AIA's Material Knowledge Working Group and
is a member of the Health Product Declaration Collaborative.
Currently, at Brightworks, he is working on the scoring tool that
lets architects and designers compare products by seeing their
assigned numbers in multiple categories.
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i+D - May/June 2021

Table of Contents for the Digital Edition of i+D - May/June 2021

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