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Cutting-Edge Ceramics: Playing Tricks With Textures

2 minute read
Adam Pitluk

Abhinand Lath recalls being particularly moved by a poem by an 11th century Japanese woman who described strolling through a young bamboo forest so delicate that her movements caused the stalks and their shadows to change colors. Bamboo happened to be the topic of Lath’s master’s thesis in architecture at the University of Michigan. Yet the poem, and the idea of colors subtly changing through variances in movement and light, stuck with him.

A year later, in 2003, the idea transformed into the foundation of a company he started called SensiTile, which is based in Detroit. In essence, SensiTile is a concept that gives concrete and plastic tiles a way to become interactive with touch, movement, light and shadow, which in turn dictate changes in the tile’s color. “I have a little bit of trouble explaining it,” says Lath, 31, who is originally from India but came to the U.S. to study electrical engineering at Arizona State University in 1993. “It’s a very direct and intuitive phenomenon that has to be experienced.”

Luckily for him, the quality and properties of his pet project speak for themselves. What Lath and his team of engineers and architects do is alter the composition of concrete and plastic. To create the Scintilla tiles, hundreds of light-conducting channels are carved into a transparent block of clear or pigmented polymer. These channels act like fiber-optic filaments, giving the material the ability to magically shift, shimmer and ripple in response to movement and changes in light intensity. As a result, the tiles react to shadows and moving lights and accordingly disperse them on the tiles’ surface.

SensiTile and its creator are already causing quite a stir in architectural circles. Lath won the award for best new talent at the 2004 International Contemporary Furniture Fair, which has sparked interest from a number of construction and home-design companies. Homeowners are ordering the tiles for bathrooms and entryways and as art fixtures. Lath is reinvesting any profits into the company. “My goal for the business is to be able to fund more research,” he says. “There are more manifestations I haven’t completely explored.”

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