Façade panels made of aubergine fibres, energy-generating solar shades, odour-absorbent curtains, biobased liquid floors … You name it, and it is available as a material. Materials that can be used to construct buildings to make them more sustainable. Yet it was not always easy to keep up with the latest trends in the field of materials as an (interior) architect. Until architect Els Zijlstra founded Materia in 1998, which has since grown into the world’s largest materials platform for R & D and design professionals and material manufacturers under the name MaterialDistrict. A story about how a small idea has become big.


The emergence of MaterialDistrict
Working as an architect at Kraaijvanger Urbis Architects in Rotterdam, there was an important question that Zijlstra dealt with: “Why is there no central organisation that connects creative professionals like her to manufacturers of the most innovative materials available?” Zijlstra, a purist whose inspirational life is set on a houseboat, is fascinated by materials. She did not understand how something that is so necessary did not exist long ago.


To support the creativity and innovativeness of architects, Zijsltra therefore founded MaterialDistrict, formerly known as Materia, in 1998. An independent material library, which was designed exactly based on the way architects search. Not on façades, walls or foundations, but by properties, such as a flexible, lightweight, fire-resistant material. Innovative materials that do not prescribe applications, but inspire a search for a better, more sustainable and smarter built and decorated environment.


The search begins
In order to build up this innovative collection of materials, Zijlstra visited trade fairs both at home and abroad. Especially aimed at architects, but also events with a broader scope. Because it is precisely at trade-related trade fairs that you encounter materials that can provide innovative applications. These were the pioneering years; with a Skoda station wagon of 3,000 gulden (currency before euros in the Netherlands) in Europe and sleep on parking places. The collection grew in the trunk and the knowledge and expertise in the head. Soon fairs and universities were able to find Materia for lectures and guest lectures. In addition, dozens of articles appeared in the international trade press. Architects therefore discovered the knowledge of Materia and hired Materia to scout an innovative material and to share its knowledge in workshops.

Over the years, the brand evolved into a global platform; materia.nl became the world’s leading website in the field of innovative materials, and Materia’s curated material exhibitions are displayed at numerous shows around the world from Paris to Beijing. In 2006, Materia launched the annual trade fair Material Xperience, followed a few years later by Material Xperience On Tour, a small-scale version of the trade fair traveling along famous shows such as METSTRADE and World Architecture Festival.

With each of Materia’s activities having their own brand name, there was limited cross-pollination between them, inhibiting future growth. That’s why we decided to continue under one international brand, with one mission: MaterialDistrict – Make it Matter

Strict criteria MaterialDistrict collection
The criteria for entering the now rapidly growing MaterialDistrict collection are strict. The material must be innovative in the field of aesthetics or technology or offer social relevance in another way. Aesthetic innovations include iridescent glazes or leather that changes shape and colour when touched. The architect sees technical innovations in fire-resistant, bactericidal or nitrogen-neutralising materials. Social relevance is about sustainability, but also about fair trade or that materials are produced with respect for people and the environment. And of course it must be legal; For example, it was asked in vain whether the leather of a whale foreskin could be included in the collection.


Transparency and inspiration
This way, an interesting collection of materials emerged over time that reflected the niches in the industry. Approximately 80% of the materials in the collection come from commercial material manufacturers and are therefore available on the market, the remaining 20% ​​being experimental. These experimental materials are available, but for example made by a designer. Examples of this are transparent concrete or ultra-light and strong concrete. For example, there is a good mix of transparency and inspiration that offers the creative professional the full range of choices, enabling him to make a proper assessment.



“Every architect has a natural urge for innovation. Designing better buildings with materials that are nicer, healthier, more efficient or less damaging to the environment.”


architect Els Zijlstra, founder Materia


International successes
In 2002, Materia had become a well-known name in the design world and the time was right to put together a traveling exhibition. All materials collected throughout Europe were taken from the Skoda and exhibited on white blocks in the Techniek Museum in Delft. After that it went fast: the exhibition shone at the design biennial in St Etienne, the architecture biennial Sao Paolo, the architecture museum Oslo and the Batimat Paris. The international press wrote jubilantly about the ground-breaking exhibitions of the most innovative materials. Such as translucent concrete, 3D hand-molded glass facades, stainless steel fabrics and textile of protein. The appeal of the unique collection turned out to be very interesting for many exhibition organizers. The trend of less trade fair visits among architects was broken and the Materia exhibition immediately added value and more visitors. A nice reward after three years of hard work. The team that had grown to four people by 2004 travelled the world. This resulted in beautiful moments from Philip Starck who came to buy the latest Materia book, to the daily yield of 15,000 euros in the pocket in Paris.

MaterialDistrict.com (formerly Materia.nl)
To make the collection accessible to the general public via the internet, the exclusive materials collections was launched in 2004 at Materia.nl. The search engine for the creative professional that was introduced at the Bouwbeurs was very innovative and Materia also had thousands of members online. Among them leading architects from OMA, Foster & Partners and Herzog & de Meuron to designers from Apple, Ferrari and even the Muppetstudio. This also meant broadening the collection to give the architect a complete choice from the material type. The search engine also provides valuable information for the industry, to improve their material or marketing. For example, clear trends in search behaviour can be observed when it comes to sustainability and translucency. Information that was used for advice to companies such as Trespa, MBI, BMW and Samsung.


Anno 2018 the online platform can be found on www.MaterialDistrict.com and daily new materials and articles are published on the website. The online search engine now has more than 3,000 materials and the platform has a base of more than 125,000 members worldwide.


Consultancy & Material advice

Materials manufacturers now also report to MaterialDistrict for knowledge and information, by both R&D and marketing departments. For example: How can my material be used by architects? How do I connect with these creatives? And: How can I develop it further with them? This results in customized consultancy projects that lead to great examples of techno transfer; innovative products that were brought from one market to another. Such as with weavers of conveyor belts and the makers of industrial brushes who discover that their material is also suitable for table tops. Another good example of innovation in the MaterialDistrict network is the metal foam that is used for isolators in engine blocks. That was exactly the beautiful lightweight material that many designers were looking for

MaterialDistrict Rotterdam (formerly Material Xperience)
In order to periodically use the designing Netherlands for material inspiration, the idea was conceived to develop the traveling exhibition into a full-fledged annual fair: Material Xperience, now MaterialDistrict Rotterdam. In Den Bosch, this attractive fair with its recognizable white blocks and high-quality, sleek appearance and leading speaker programme was a great success in 2008. That success became even greater when that same year Materia was taken over by Jeroen van Oostveen, who was co-owner and initiator of the well-known architectural platforms Architectenweb.nl and Archello.com. The effect was immediately clear; once a Materia event was announced on Architectenweb.nl, the next day the people were storming in.


Van Oostveen closed a joint venture with Jaarbeurs, the largest organiser of trade fairs in the Netherlands, in 2009 and assured them that from that moment on there would be a Material Xperience in the Netherlands. Jaarbeurs thus benefited from a high-quality audience that, after their visit to Material Xperience, could also go through to a Jaarbeurs event that was held at the same time as Material Xperience. For Materia, this partnership meant a definitive breakthrough of Material Xperience, which ultimately led to international editions in China (2012) and Germany (2013). Materia also developed a traveling variant under the name Material Xperience On Tour; a materials pavilion as part of other trade fairs at home and abroad.


After ten editions at the same time as the Jaarbeurs titles GEVEL and BOUWBEURS, Materia took an important step forward in its growth strategy in 2017 by ending its collaboration with Jaarbeurs. Van Oostveen at the time: “The co-location of Material Xperience with GEVEL and Bouwbeurs has contributed to the success of our exhibition in the construction and architecture sector. However, it also limited us in bringing together the right target groups. From a stand-alone position, we can focus more on quality and broadening our formula.”


The widening of the formula with 4 new sectors (Products, Graphic & Packaging, Fashion & Workwear & Mobility) has been positively received by both the visitor and exhibitor, giving Material Xperience the right to call itself the leading material innovation event for R&D and design professionals.


MaterialDistrict Rotterdam 2020
From 17 – 19 March 2020, the 15th edition of the now popular materials exhibition MaterialDistrict Rotterdam will take place in Rotterdam Ahoy.

What to expect? Read it here.