Abhinand Lath was exploring an abstract idea about bamboo for his graduate architecture thesis at the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor when he invented a revolutionary surfacing material called SensiTile.
In simple terms, the product bends and plays with light by incorporating fiber optic–like matrices that cause colors and intensities to shift in response to external light and shadows. “I didn’t invent it for any material purpose,” the Indian-born Lath says. “It was just to take a poetic idea and make a physical product out of it.”
That may be how it started, but once the architecture and design community got wind of the product (and its possibilities), they wanted to know where they could buy it. Lath tried to find a manufacturer to produce the surfacing, but no one took him up on his offer. “People told me it was impossible to make,” Lath jokes. But no worries, if no one wanted to make it, he would make it himself.
Today, Lath is the president of Detroit-based SensiTile Systems—a company he founded to manufacture SensiTile surfacing and tiles. Used for floors, walls, countertops, and other architectural applications, SensiTile is now available in myriad styles, colors, and materials.
The Scintilla tile line, for example, uses light-conducting channels carved into a transparent block of pigmented polymer. The fiber-optic elements give the tiles the ability to shift, shimmer, and ripple in response to movement and changes in light intensity. In other lines, the tile or surfacing is made from a micro-concrete mix into which the light-conducting fiber optic–like matrix is embedded before the mix is poured.
“Business has been good for us,” Lath says. “We get mostly commercial clients here and overseas. We also get residential projects when there is a designer involved.”
At the moment, the company produces eight product lines based on the original invention. The number of colors the manufacturer offers depends on the product line. For example, the acrylic products are available in up to 500 colors, while the terrazzo is available in 50 to 60. Prices range from $40 per square foot to about $180 per square foot. Lead time is six to eight weeks.
Learn more about markets featured in this article: Ann Arbor, MI.