Material Migrations

Posted inID Mag
Thumbnail for Regional Design Awards: 2018 Winner Galleries

Bright, bubbly, and inclined to glow, Panelite panels make cheerful company. But this material is no floozy. Constructed of a honeycomb core of polymer, fiberglass, or aluminum sandwiched between fiberglass facings, it’s strong and consistently rigid for its weight. A 4-by-8-foot panel, 3/4-inches thick, is 32 pounds, a feather compared to acrylic (144 pounds), or plate glass (316 pounds) in the same dimensions. What’s more, the gumdrop colors and honeycomb cells produce vivid visual effects when light passes through the material.

Designed for interior applications, such as partition walls and furniture, Panelite can be cut, drilled, and machined with standard woodworking tools. Recently, the manufacturer also developed an exterior grade, IGU (insulating glass unit), with weather-resistant glass facings and a tubular polycarbonate core. It’s the orange stuff glowing on Rem Koolhaas’s student center at the Illinois Institute of Technology.

What might other adventurous types do with Panelite? We asked the lighting designer Leni Schwendinger, industrial designer Gadi Amit of Newdealdesign, and graphic designer Mirko Ilic each to propose an application. They and their colleagues worked like drones to produce the concepts presented here. For more about Panelite, log on to

—Julie Lasky

We were excited about Panelite’s cellular structure, especially as it relates to bees and hives (later we realized the material’s colors are akin to honey). A hive is used for more than one purpose—birth nest, honey storage. We asked ourselves what kind of multifunctional bus shelter we could design that would be more than a screen from rain and wind, or a place for advertising. Ours has a pull-down table for diapering babies, a newspaper vending machine, and a place to plug in a laptop. A clear panel showing the bus map might light up at night. You also could build on it, add more cells, maybe a public toilet.

Based in New York, Leni Schwendinger Light Projects Ltd. creates lighting environments for architectural and public spaces all over the world. Weaving the dramatic and playful possibilities of light into the fabric of urban life, Light Projects’ site-specific works transform built forms with light, shadow, and images. These works energize architecture, landscape, and industrial/commercial infrastructures with the ultimate objective of connecting people to each other and to their surroundings.

Design team: artist: Leni Schwendinger; senior Designer: Charles Cameron; junior designer and 3D model-builder: Wonkeun Han; design assistant: Shiri Cnaani

Echelon is a modular furniture system made of aluminum and Panelite. This material offers luminous translucent color with exceptional structural rigidity—stained glass meets space-age composite technology. At the same time, Panelite is a planar material with a uniform thinness.

For Echelon, we exploited these qualities to create long structural spans that flow together through thin transitions created by a sheet-metal structure. The combination of materials and forms allows for the construction of seating, shelving, and interior “landscapes” that can be customized to the user’s environment. Openings in the sheet metal allow light to pass through the Panelite, resulting in puddles of color flowing into the surrounding space.

Design team: Josh Morenstein, Gadi Amit, Giuseppe Della Sala

This idea is a waiting room for kids in a hospital, airport, or any other place with fixed furniture. Panelite is not easy to cut in curves, so the space is designed along a diagonal grid of Panelite tiles, which can be removed to install furnishings of the same material. Half-tiles on the grid’s outer edges are fixed to provide stability. Transparent Panelite is used for shelving in bookcases and desks; raw edges of the material’s honeycomb core are finished in clear plastic or rubber.

Ideally, the orange floor tiles will be laid over an illuminated white plastic or Plexiglas floor, intensifying the light when furniture is installed. The rendering presents a random combination of furniture elements, showing the range of what might be available.

Born in Bosnia, Mirko Ilic has practiced graphic design, illustration, and 3D computer graphics in the U.S. since 1986. In 1995, he opened Mirko Ilic Corp. in New York. A former art director of Time magazine’s international edition and of the The New York Times’s Op-Ed page, he has been honored by the Society of Illustrators, Society of Publication Designers, New York Art Directors Club, and Society of Newspaper Design. He is currently co-authoring two books, Handlettering in the Digital Age (with Steven Heller) and Design of Dissent (with Milton Glaser).

Designer: Mirko Ilic; rendering by Lauren DeNapoli and Mirko Ilic