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RAW SURFACES

FOCUS ON: FLOORING

For this issue's ooring theme we asked RÕvara (which translates as 'raw' in Swedish) to pick out its favourite ooring products (see selection overleaf).

Raw is Sweden's first material library, established in 2003 by Johan Heinerud and Anders Breitholtz. The founders wanted to create a meeting place for those producing and specifying innovative materials. The company's website ( www.ravara. se) is set to launch an English internet database by the middle of next year, which aims to showcase 1,000 materials.

RÕvara director Henrik Holm says: 'The inspiration comes from the music industry, and the idea is to let different branches introduce themselves to each other and to product developers, designers and architects.'

The music industry parallel seems smart. At the start of 2006, the Arctic Monkeys used the internet's viral qualities to build up, in just a few weeks, such an enormous fanbase that their debut album was the fastest-selling in UK history.

Website access cannot be restricted if this sort of exponential growth is to occur; that's why RÕvara will be free to use - unlike competitors such as Material Connexion, whose database is by subscription - with manufacturers paying for products to be included.

The communication channels RÕvara is establishing are a challenge to annual trade fairs' slowness in responding to the constantly changing materials market. 'Product development never ceases, ' says Holm. 'New products can take five years to develop. When they are ready, companies want to start selling straight away.'

RÕvara aims to capture a new audience of specifiers, giving manufacturers the chance to disseminate product innovations as they happen.

This strategy chimes with current thinking about emerging communication patterns. At the recent WorkTech 2006 conference in London, Philip Ross (coauthor of Space to Work with Jeremy Myerson, who will be writing January's office theme for AJ Specification) spoke about the 'always-on generation', who are using urban-scale wireless technology to adopt 'synchronous' working habits, where the global exchange of ideas takes place in real time.

Mirroring these large-scale changes, material technology is also exploring ways to convey information instantly.

An example is Lightfader, an interactive ooring system from Belgium; when you walk on the oor tiles, a liquid is displaced that momentarily changes their colour. The amount of light coming through depends on the amount of pressure applied, so the heavier the person - or the sharper the stiletto - the more intense the imprint.

This seems a fun oneliner, but where could it be leading? Ross suggested that the limitations on mobile devices' screen sizes could be overcome by more communicative architectural surfaces. Our relationship to the physical environment might be fundamentally altered as the playfulness of these material inventions matures.

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