Future Materials Bank

Generous Knowledge-Sharing
A crowd-sourced online archive of materials that supports and promotes transitions towards more sustainable artistic practices, and provides workshops and open-access resources on sustainable materials and methods


Given the significant environmental cost of using new materials, including in art and design contexts, and the abundance of so-called waste material that is steadily filling landfills and seas, a shift to a circular design strategy of reuse and recycling is paramount. Knowledge of what recycled material is available, how it can be sourced, and how it functions is often limited or isolated – to the detriment of artists, designers and students searching for alternative and more environmentally careful ways of working. So, how might spatial practitioners, including artists, designers, and students access such information, add to it, share it, and therefore make responsible decisions when selecting materials? How might they learn more about where materials come from, who makes them, and how?


The Future Materials Bank is an open-source database containing information about up-cycled, recycled, and repurposed materials. Its approach resonates with other open-source databases, from early examples such as Whole Earth Catalog to Wikipedia today. The Bank offers a panoply of options for sourcing materials whose supply chains are ethically responsible regarding both labour practices and ecological care. Definitions of ethical responsibility are provided in a Lexicon section within the Bank’s website. Extending beyond a standard specification tool for sourcing materials, the Bank functions as a more imaginative provocation and a more nuanced way of thinking about materials and circularity. The Bank is designed with a holistic approach to these considerations, assessing a material across criteria that concern “usability, eco-friendliness, social circumstances, and afterlife”.1See ‘Material Policy – Future Materials Bank’<https://www.futurematerialsbank.com/material-policy/> [accessed 5 November 2023].

The Bank presents information in a transparent approach by accounting for a material’s history, including the material and labour processes required in its manufacture. For example, fish leather is presented via the work of a London-based artist who collects refuse from a fish market and, after drying the fish skin, uses it as an alternative to leather. The artist’s process is described alongside the ecological value of reinterpreting waste as source material. Such transparent documentation of process and rationale could incentivise an ethics of accountability by revealing the exploitative nature of methods that extract raw materials and exploit cheap labour.

The Bank’s diversification of materials encourages a crucial shift in attitudes from a preference for new material towards an interest and optimism in materials that have histories. This shift also encourages a different temporality in popular perceptions of materials. Rather than new stuff, materials with longer biographies could become popular first, and then the norm.