I’m a (building) material girl

Two facts:
1. I don’t really _love_ contemporary modern design. I err on the side of antiques, vintage and restoration. I would rather live in Wayne Manor, not the Wayne loft. Ya dig?

2. A regular, exciting/mundane aspect of my job is retrieving building materials. On behalf of the designer and art director(s), I acquire  decorative linoleum panels, glass samples, plastics, carpet pieces, hardware and occasionally textiles for drapery and upholstery for my bosses’ selection. Caring about samples can bore the pants off some people, but I’m growing to like it.  Creating a color and material palette is the most direct creative input a designer can have. Those samples become our weapons of persuasion! My fist pumped in the air, for all design nerds! Yeah!!!

Designers compulsively collect samples, brochures and catalogues for all the obvious reasons – we need to know what we can use for building. So, art directors usually unstick me from my desk to make me drive to some distant showroom (hopefully an awesome showroom) to pick up a box of heavy tile pieces. Or heavy-ass books of carpets. Or heavy, on-the-chain samples of aluminum pieces. I have to be familiar with the brands Azrock by Tarkett, Chemetal, Mannington, Armstrong, all that shit. And it’s heavy. See a pattern here?

Sample-choosing can really be exciting! I swear! It’s especially exciting when you fall in love with a specific material.

My current favorite is Panelite. Basically, it’s a dimensional honeycomb structure sandwiched by two pieces of decorative, translucent plastic sheets. According to the Panelite site, honeycomb design is the best because “…Honeycomb technology…provides exceptional strength-to-weight ratio and was first developed for aerospace to improve flight efficiency…By developing a honeycomb composite that is translucent instead of opaque, Panelite provides other important design benefits: light transmittance, visual privacy, a compelling aesthetic in which form reveals structure, and – in the case of exterior panels – exceptional shading performance.”

You’re like, what? I say, look. Just look.

IIT McCormick Tribune Campus, Chicago, IL.

Falcon Headquarters, Mexico City, Mexico

Panelite is the material that makes “futuristic” design palpable and beautiful, a nice mix of The Jetsons with chic. Panelite looks different at every view, it can be lit, it can provide shade. It’s translucent, but dense enough that it can be used as privacy partitions. It’s inherently stiff, so it doesn’t need a lot of support structure, thereby minimizing extra material needs and supplementary energy/waste. Manufacturing the Panelite materials is environmentally friendly – it’s derived from recycled elements, and constructed in a low-energy manner (room temperature bonding, and doesn’t create toxic, air or waste pollution byproducts).

I also like how Panelite is NOT so ridiculous-looking that it becomes the snobby pink elephant in the room. I literally gasped when I walked into the IIT McCormick Tribune Campus in Chicago last year – it is a gorgeous building. The orange panels converted cold, dreary Chicago February daylight into warm luminescence onto the polished concrete hallway floors. How my eyes danced between scrutinizing the amazing details of the panels and artwork, to easily simplifying the room as a clean, modern space. Decorative, but clean space! Modern without sterility. Busy but functional. Plastic but organic-seeming. Lovely!

Here’s a sexy shot of the honeycomb panel up close:

I’m a sucker for gorgeous color.

These two look like the samples we have in the office: I love this stuff.

We have a box of eight square samples in the office, and I’ve been kind of playing with them all day. Nerd!


  1. Brian

    I really like the futuristic look of panelite. It’s created to be a translucent design. It’s great for exterior structures and modern construction. Is it very expensive?

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