In every architectural project – from a skyscraper to an apartment interior – the relationship between the idea and its implementation is fundamental. For this reason, all the leading studios have a space full of all kinds of catalogues and samples (stones, metals, fabrics, facings, glass): this is the materials library where the concrete phase of design begins.
It is impossible to have a complete, constantly updated range of anything that might be interesting: architects are thus constantly requesting samples of materials from companies. The upstream process of selection can be laborious, in a market that covers the entire planet.
Adam Sandow, the American publisher of magazines like Interior Design and Metropolis, has had the idea of creating a sort of online marketplace precisely to facilitate this procedure, and in 2019 he created the startup Material Bank: a big catalogue where you can choose from thousands of references and receive the selection in a single shipment, without having to directly contact the individual suppliers. This implies enormous savings of time and environmental impact.
The idea, activated only in the USA until today, has met with success: today Material Bank presents catalogues of over 500 companies, and the user base – architects and interior designers – contains over 100,000 names. A platform for research, sampling and specifications on materials for architecture, construction and design. Today the project is about to be launched in Europe as well, starting in April.
“The idea behind Material Bank is simple: to allow architects to centrally concentrate their orders on a single website and to rapidly receive grouped samples,” says Philippe Brocart, previously Managing Director of the fair Maison&Objet and its digital platform, and now the general director of Material Bank Europe. “At the same time, we have realized that Material Bank can also offer producers the opportunity to know more about the projects for which architects need these samples. In definitive terms, then, there is a simplification of the work of architects and an added value for producers, who are better informed about these works. This is the dual interpretation that has permitted the initiative to grow so rapidly.”
Two other important factors for Material Bank are speed and quality of service: materials are delivered by the day after the order is placed. The operative centers of the company are close to major airport hubs (for Europe, in the vicinity of Roissy – Charles de Gaulle in Paris). And the packaging, with clear graphic design, has been formulated as a tool for presentations.
For architects registration is free of charge, based on validation of the practice on the part of Material Bank. The shipping of the samples is also free. “We are very selective in this approval process. This is also a sign of respect for the producers who pay to participate, with the objective of establishing contact on a large scale with clients working on major projects,” Brocart continues. “We evaluate not only the professional status of the designer, but also the type of projects on which they work. We also want to be sure that the request for samples has to do with an effectively identified project in progress. We reject about 30% of the registration requests, and B2C consumers are excluded. Students can have an account and conduct research, but they cannot order samples. We offer them the possibility to discover the platform, because they are the professionals of tomorrow.”
What are the quantitative goals of Material Bank Europe? “At the moment of the launch, we will be able to provide samples from over 100 producers and we will offer certain architects the opportunity to become members, in order to test the system. Our objective for the end of the year is to have 15,000 members in Europe, the United Kingdom and Switzerland.”