Composites are on display everywhere you look, from cars on the road to boats in the water and airplanes in the sky. But one museum in Belgium took it a step further by making composites the sole focus of an exhibit that ran from Oct. 26, 2018, through April 21, 2019. The Fibre-Fixed: Composites in Design exhibit at Design Museum Gent, which strives to raise awareness of the impact of design on daily life, featured 80 objects made from composites.
The exhibit provided a gateway to introduce people to the world of materials and engineering, specifically composites, according to co-curators Ignaas Verpoest and Lut Pil. But it went beyond mere introduction to composite materials, says Verpoest. “We wanted to show how the interaction between designers and new materials, like composites, inspires designers to come up with novel concepts – breakthrough answers to societal challenges like climate change, sustainability, mobility, the increasing urban character of our societies and the aging population,” he says.
Verpoest and Pil are ideal co-curators of Fibre-Fixed. Verpoest is emeritus professor in the department of mechanical engineering at Katholieke Universiteit Leuven (KU Leaven). He holds the Toray Chair in Composite Materials at KU Leaven and is involved in research projects on CFRP and natural fiber reinforced composites. He also is co-founder and a board member of Econcore, a worldwide producer of honeycomb cores. Pil is a professor at the LUCA School of Arts in Gent, Belgium. The two have organized exhibits on composites and design since 2002.
Produced in collaboration with Envisions, a Dutch design collective, the latest exhibit featured items made from both synthetic fibers (carbon fiber and glass fiber) and natural fibers (flax, hemp, jute and silk) combined with epoxy, polyester, polypropylene and other resins. “The exhibition showed a large number of objects and projects where designers have used composites in surprising, but innovative ways,” says Verpoest. Among the items on display were a CFRP violin, a flax fiber cello, the Hummingbird foldable bike, a model of the Solar Impulse solar-powered airplane, car panels, a lower leg prosthesis and chairs.
The objects were obtained either from designers or the companies that produce them. Verpoest and Pil had a hard time narrowing down the items for the exhibit from an initial list twice as long as the final display. “All of the objects we finally selected have some unique features which make them particularly attractive, and we could have selected many more,” says Verpoest.