Materials in general, are an integral part of our society and have always been around ever since our human creation as matter. Natural resources are key in this definition for they are the tools of the creation of architecture for generations ever since stone-age.
Materials evolution has come evidently, throughout man’s necessity of reaching better performance of his structures. Consequently, man-power had to translate into industrialization bringing pollution into the environment, from the creation of these man-made materials.
There are two different concepts to take into account: Materials Science and Materials Innovation. Both work with similar purposes, but comprise different perspectives: According to Jean-Pierre Mercier and his team:
Materials Science is a branch of science that reveals the many diverse factors of materials. Materials comprise a wide range of metals and non-metals which must be processed to form the end product… Materials science investigates relationships existing between the structures of materials and their properties and concerns the inter-disciplinary study of materials for engineering and practical purposes. It is based on solid state physics and chemistry of the structure of materials. (Jean-Pierre, 2002)
As it reads, materials science centers on traditional man-made materials understanding their behavior within itself. Tests that prove their strength and resistance to other factors as important aspects in materials science.
Now, Materials Innovation brings other issues concerning preceding methods of materials processing and presents the alternative of creating new innovative materials with alternate sources from nature and the use of less raw materials; sources that are renewable unlike metals (unless recycled, but looses part of its properties). Innovation has been triggered by the Industrial-era, then the post-industrial age where:
“Many new products are created out of the desire to achieve a particular aesthetic of psychological effect, without a particular pragmatic need of mind”- as described by Blaine Brownell in Transmaterial. Adding that: Many new product innovations, therefore, are based on using less raw material and energy, repurposing existing materials into new forms, and creating materials which are less toxic for the environment”.
Although it may seem these concepts are different, one need the other somehow. In order to innovate, we need to learn from science, the characteristics, structure and stability of a material and add to it, a great bite of Chemistry and Biology, Thermodynamics as a plus.
This last definition remarks the very purpose of my duty on materials, that lack of information that haunts my mind every time a new project comes around. Our world in architecture nowadays, is tied to the basics of construction materials when there is so much new to explore. It is possibly costly, but many times when the solution is not cost the answer is: “no one knows how to do it”. What comes to my mind all of the sudden is the image of Gaudi’s museum at La Sagrada Familia, it is remarked Gaudi used to work along the process of construction, he was involved in the process of designing new shapes, exploring new materials, just like any other contractor.
Today’s Architect works inside office mainly, with legal restriction keeping him away from the results of his designs. Today, do we need to go back to the craft of Architecture and be more part of the process, create mock ups of our own ideas of materials, and turn offices into real workshops or labs perhaps? A new type of Architect? … That would be another endless conversation due to a later post.
Mercier, Jean-Pierre, Zambell, Gerald and Kurz, Vilfried. Introduction to Materials Science. France. Elsevier, 2002.
Brownell, Blaine. Transmaterial: A catalog of materials that redefine our physical environment. Ed. Brownell, Blaine. New York. Princeton Architectural Press, 2006.
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