Luckily, We Now Have an Abundance of Materials to Work with For Architectural Design

Brad Smith
Written By Brad Smith

The functionality, longevity, and safety of a building, whether it’s a home, a commercial space, or an infrastructure project, rely on the materials’ quality, and while using the finest materials is of the essence, they must be handled with care and precision during construction. A huge variety of different materials can be used for buildings, some to absorb humidity from the surrounding environment, others to prevent the spread of fire and ensure the right level of protection for inhabitants. The market is full of products that vary in quality (and price), making it that more difficult for a person lacking the knowledge, skill, or wisdom gained from experience to make the right decision. 

Modern architecture is marked by aesthetics, whether comic, tragic, or sublime, and materiality, which involves articulating ideas into built forms and carving the lines sketched on paper to reality. We’ve come up with a list of materials that can be part of any project, as they’re able to resist environmental conditions and adhere to construction laws and requirements, so please take your pick.  

abundance of materials to work with for architectural design

Here’s Some Good Examples 

Concrete 

Concrete is stigmatised on the one hand and celebrated on the other, so it carries contradictory associations, but it’s still one of the most flexible and dynamic building materials in architectural history. It can be moulded into virtually any shape to suit all applications, which creates an opportunity for expression, so the design can reflect the client’s requirements, the local context, and the architect’s inventiveness. Ready-mix concrete is used for foundations, sidewalks, and driveways thanks to its durability and high strength, while lightweight concrete is best suited for the construction of partition walls and fire-resistant structures.

Architectural concrete is preferable for structures that aren’t possible with other construction materials, but it requires special care when it comes to forming, placing, and finishing to obtain the desired appearance. Second only to water, concrete is the most consumed material on the planet, but it has an environmental impact, driven mostly by construction and infrastructure, not to mention carbon dioxide emissions. Indeed, it’s the foundation of modern development, putting roofs over our heads, but it also consumes a lot of fertile soil, constipates rivers, destroys habitats, and makes us less sensitive to what happens outside our urban fortresses. Homebuilders and commercial builders can use recycled aggregates from construction and demolition waste to decrease the amount of cement needed in the mix.

Textile 

Textiles have been laudably used for temporary and permanent construction applications alike, mostly as membrane constructions, geotextiles, shading, and reinforcement. Their use is confined these days to applications including lightweight construction, such as tents and shelters, mobile/temporary constructions, weather protection membranes, and facade structures, even if textile finishing offers a wide array of possibilities to improve the functionality of the material to achieve special properties. Textiles like jacquard fabrics are light, easy to convert or dismantle, and have the added advantage of low maintenance. Using textiles as new construction materials can result in aesthetically pleasing innovation, providing new opportunities for design.

As a case in point, in the “Stoffwechsel” project, textiles are introduced as insulation components for the building envelope for indoor and outdoor applications, and they’re also deployed for temporary structures, replacing conventional walls, ceilings, and roof systems. Whether woven, warp-knitted, or non-woven, fabrics are complex constructions, and it’s critical to select the right fibres and threads before transferring the textiles to the construction area, where they can be adapted to the requirements of the system. Not all modern architects have banned textiles from their designs, like for example, Mies van der Rohe, who, for the pavilion built for the Universal Exhibition in Barcelona, called upon marble, travertine, and red onyx.

Plastic 

Decades after it became the fabric of our lives, we’ve decided out of the blue that plastic is a bad thing, mostly because it sticks around in the environment for ages, makes it hard for some species to live and breed naturally, and contributes to global climate change. Still, we shouldn’t judge it so harshly. Plastic can be used in architecture, design, and interiors, offering a great deal more freedom, not to mention improved functional integration and structural simplification. With growing efforts to undo the carbon content, non-fossil fuel alternatives have been developed in an effort to reduce the demand for petrochemicals, like shrimp shells that can be chemically transformed into plastics with the same properties as artificial organic polymers. 

Plastic can make buildings more efficient, and it doesn’t cost a lot to build, so it can improve the architecture of the future, providing the means for a flexible, lightweight, and durable design. On the whole, plastic is a powerful force for sustainability thanks to its energy-saving potential and innate recyclability – it’s impressive how this trend picked up worldwide. Examples of reusing plastic waste include 3D printing, plastic houses that combine the four elements of green living (comfort and safety, self-sufficiency, mobility, and local circular production), and recycled building blocks that require no glue or adhesives. 

Concluding Thoughts

Materials are clearly the foundation of architecture, and they can be used either pragmatically or morphologically (for their appearance and ornamental quality) to make matter expressive, which is experienced in the inner eye of the mind, heart, and soul. At present, there’s a tendency to get stuck behind the computer, using software programs to create, design, and document projects, so most of them never really discover new material options, relying on what they already know. Innovation is virtually everywhere, and we enjoy it but sometimes don’t even realise it; it’s possible to disrupt the market without creating something entirely new. 

Material selection isn’t about choosing the sturdiest, most affordable, or most obvious manufactured products, meaning it’s a complex process influenced and determined by many conditions, decisions, and considerations. Nowadays, various options are available for the buildings that architects design, and every selection process must fulfil a simple need, so it’s paramount to understand what aspects are at play and generate a schematic of basic considerations.

smith brad omni

Written by Brad Smith

CEO & Lead Interior Designer

Brad Smith is an experienced interior designer and the founder of OmniHomeIdeas.com. With a Master's degree in Interior Design from Pratt Institute and a passion for creating safe and healthy living spaces, Brad shares his expert insights and innovative design ideas with our readers. His work is driven by the belief that home is where every story begins.