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March 30, 2010

Material ConneXion

Columbus, Ohio, architect Jonathan Barnes faced a common design hurdle: He and his client had agreed on an end but were stumped by the means. Barnes had devised a series of movable panels to divide the client's living spaces. The challenge: The material had to have strong visual appeal but be lightweight and translucent in order to maximize natural light. Their solution: turning to Material ConneXion, a Manhattan membership-based archive whose mission is to play matchmaker to individuals and cutting-edge materials. Their search, conducted on the Material ConneXion Web site, produced acrylic and aluminum honeycomb Panelite, which fulfilled client's and architect's demands.

"We'd never have found these materials elsewhere," says Barnes, who conducts online searches using Material ConneXion's database on a weekly basis. Architect Margaret Helfand, of Helfand Myerberg Guggenheimer, concurs. She and her client discovered a corrugated fiber cement panel by Societá Italiana Lastre which worked perfectly as the solid yet shapely base for the client's steel conference table.

Material ConneXion was founded in 1997 by George Beylerian, a former furniture importer and creative director for Steelcase Design Partnership, a producer of contemporary office furnishings. Frustrated that the worlds of design and materials were not meshing on a more regular basis, Beylerian began traveling the globe in search of content to create a materials library that now contains more than 3,000 physical samples. The materials are meticulously catalogued according to composition (polymer, carbon-based, glass, metal, cement-based, ceramic, and natural), maker, product type, and physical properties (such as flexible or water-resistant). Materials are juried monthly for inclusion in the archive. Two in-house consultants work with members—who range from multinational corporations to independent designers and decorators—to assist with materials searches, be it finding an iridescent drapery fabric or a rust-resistant exterior metal skin for a home. ("Coming here is like going to the adult version of FAO Schwarz," says Beylerian.) Once the material is viewed, members can contact the manufacturer for more information or to place an order. Individual membership begins at $500 per year, professional membership at $1,500, and corporate membership at $4,000. Online membership is also available, with access to the Material ConneXion database.

Beylerian has witnessed dazzling offspring from his company's matchmaking efforts. He's not surprised: "We inspire our members to innovate, to build in a new way."

For membership information: Material ConneXion, 4 Columbus Circle; 212-445-8825; fax 212-445-8950; www.materialconnexion.com.