The Metropolis A to Z of Surfaces

The September 2020 issue of Metropolis featured 26 articles exploring how the superficial world goes much deeper.

Atoz Credit Olive Panter 02
Olive Panter

Surfaces of all kinds are top of mind these days, so we decided to look at all aspects of them, in these articles, from A to Z. Thinking of surfaces less as a product category and more as a framework, we use them as a lens for understanding the designed environment. Surfaces are sites of materials innovation, outlets for technology and science, and embodiments of standards around health and sustainability, as well as a medium for artists and researchers to explore political questions.

A: Antimicrobials

Lifesavers or environmental disasters? COVID-19 has experts reevaluating their position on textile and surface treatments.

B: Biobased

Products made of degradable, low-carbon bio-matter ate proliferating—with help from the federal government.


A Harvard studio takes an imaginative approach to a newly popular material.

D: Decoration

After years of denigration, decoration deserves to be celebrated for what it is, rather than dismissed for what it isn’t.

E: Encaustic

Granby Workshop reinvents a Victorian classic using sustainable methods.

F: Forecasting

What colors resonate in a badly damaged world? We asked two forecasting experts to weigh in.

G: Geometry

Geometric signatures in these textiles and surfaces originate in sources ranging from the heroic to the mundane.

H: Health

Engineered stone countertops have been popular with designers, but unhealthy for fabricators. That’s changing.

I: Iridescence

3D printing scales up an elusive natural phenomenon.

J: Jacquard

Artist Ahree Lee highlights how women pioneered both weaving and early computing.

K: Knits

Using methods borrowed from endurance textiles, 3D-knit fabrics are being redeployed in service of workers’ comfort.

L: Lime

The age-old material continues to find applications in architecture.

M: Mirror

When it comes to mirrors, these four designers aren’t afraid to play up vibrant colors and lustrous materials.

N: New London Fabulous

A slew of recent projects emphasize color’s capacity to bring joy to the public sphere. Just don’t call it a movement.

O: Opacity

Studies suggest what you see is not always what’s in front of you.

P: Porosity

A visionary architect and urbanist believes permeability should be embraced.

Q: Quilts

An artist engages with American lore in an exhibition at the Bronx Museum of the Arts.

R: Renewal

DLR Group’s renovation brings sweeping changes to the Portland Building by Michael Graves—in order to save it.

S: Soil

Thomas Woltz of Nelson Byrd Woltz Landscape Architects says it’s the most important surface there is.

T: Tile

These seven tiles illustrate the ways manufacturers are innovating while drawing on traditional techniques.

U: Urban

With the multiplying risks of urban heat and the pandemic, a city’s surface reflects its inequities.


A wave of artists, designers, and academics dabble in leaky realities.

W: Wallpaper

Wallcoverings, historical and contemporary, speak volumes about the times in which they’re made.


A supersize graphic marks the facade of a design firm’s dream HQ in Amsterdam.

Y: Yarn

Eight sustainable innovations in yarn and fiber set the stage for a new generation of textiles.

Z: Zero

How can materials and surfaces help or hinder a building in attaining net-zero performance.

You may also enjoy “Game Changers 2020: The Practices and People Changing Design

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