Meri Zirkelbach

Materialspeculation – Interplay of material tradition and material-orientated design


We are in an era of constantly newer and better material developments that are often no longer based on a classic raw material. Raw materials are constantly being broken down into their basic building components, reassembled, improved, digitally charged and optimised.

A wide range of speculative material considerations and design realisations in the artisanal-digital field of tension can be seen as a supplement to basic scientific research on a material. In addition to material-orientated approaches, the work expands the identification of future possibilities and impossibilities by incorporating historical-traditional aspects of material into design. The understanding of material traditions also provides added value for the diverse realisation eventualities of sustainable raw materials of the future. In this context, the aim of the work is to reflect on familiar product- and service-orientated roles of designers in an economically oriented market and to contribute to the redefinition of design.

In the last decade, numerous disciplines have embraced speculation and the creation of fiction as a research method, a tool of thought or an object of investigation. In general, the term has taken on a new significance in the philosophy of science, sociology and philosophy. In the context of basic research in the natural sciences, on the other hand, the term lost its significance, as it was seen as being unscientific and uncertain. The examination of traditional lines of material speculation reflects this divergence and the ambivalent view of the term that has changed over time. In doing so, it links these to technological and cultural-historical material developments in history.

Accordingly, the work shows the different cultural and disciplinary approaches and ideas about the emerging results of material research and development. Speculative and creative modes of thinking, which examine conditions as they could be, can trigger incomprehension and irritation in scientific material research, which is trained in rationality and predictability. In this context, the advantage of a material-speculative approach is drawn with a comparison to known innovation processes.

The empirical study based on the material concept CNF (Cellulose Nanofibers) and the various implementation possibilities developed from it are being carried out in collaboration with Empa, Dübendorf (Swiss Federal Laboratories for Materials Science and Technology).


Prof. Dr. Markus Holzbach

​Dr. Thomas Geiger