Within composite materials

Within composite materials

Our living spaces contain a large amount of materials you can’t count on, going far beyond of what is seen at a naked eye or whatever recognition we can attribute by a name, a reason for which written specifications are submitted upon a construction development as part of the construction documents. In various occasions, the use of composites or composition materials improves the performance of a specific application, but sometimes users are unaware of the elements that compose it. Composites contain multiple materials separated but conglomerated, that interact and make a single super material because of all the properties it can actually perform in one single composed element. The comprehension of which material to specify regarding an object, furniture, interior space or building construction, must be addressed as seriously as the specific dimensions for ADA approved areas.

Composite materials

Fiber-reinforced plastic with glass fiber

Aramid, Fiber-reinforced plastic with glass fiber

Composites, comprise numerous properties depending on the combination,  not quite appreciated at first sight like what can be assumed with concrete or wood directly. At a MOMA exhibition of 1995, about Mutant Materials and innovation, a brief explanation about composites was addressed with the next historical reference which up to date is still valid:

The idea of composite materials is an ancient one, as old as the huts made of mud and straw that are the precursors of contemporary carbon-fiber applications. In today’s composites, thermosetting resins like epoxy or polyethylene are the updated versions of mud, while aramid, carbon, and glass fibers have replaced straw. As with the age-old hut, the resin coheres and gives shape to the object, while the carbon fiber reinforces it. -MOMA.org-

Today, there’s a numerous amount of composites that can be disguised by a single material such as plywoods or MDF panels. This last one, for example, is denominated Medium Density Fiberboard, meaning it contains a combination of wood fibers (hardwoods and softwoods), combined with wax and a type of resin that makes it solid. So it is not plain wood. Aramid, carbon and glass fibers are part of these type of elements found on composite materials which take part of innovative materials of today.
Moreover, if we disect materials and understand their composition, then we can apply them with conscious logic with a designated purpose; understanding its reaction to the environment or everyday use as an imperative measure to the use of materials.


Now looking at construction systems,  there are a few technologies that save energy and lower construction costs, often disguised with a single acronym denominating a composite material. To make that clear and understand the difference between a system and a single layer of that system, here are some systems and elements:

SCIP= Structural Concrete Insulated Panel
EIFS = Exterior Insulation Finishing System on top of the exterior side of a plywood wall or other finishes, layered with EPS boards, fiber glass, a base coat and a finish coat.
ICF = Insulated Concrete Forms. Concrete poured inside an EPS shell with a stucco finish outside.
IMP = Insulated Metal Panel, also comprised of EPS board.


Boards applied as insulation on previous systems:
EPS Board = Expanded PolyStyrene, often referred to Styrofoam. Designed through a steaming process, post-consumer product and pollution free.
XPS Board = Extruded PolyStyrene. Chemically produced extrusion with off-gas after effects. Toxic to human use.
Polyiso= Used as a rigid insulation similar to EPS board. Direct contact can be skin and eyes irritant during fabrication, such as dust and fiber glass.
types of foam

Being material conscious is also understanding the process of design, development and the whole lifecycle of any kind of design. Disposal processes are also important and to understand material’s whereabouts, there should be at least a basic idea of what it is composed of, how can it be re-used, altered, disposed or returned to its natural environment as the case of by-products. 

To read more about by-products and biomimetic materials search on for these items to find more interesting articles.

“Mutant materials exhibition”. http://www.moma.org/interactives/exhibitions/1995/mutantmaterials/fibers.htm, 1995, NYC

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Mabelle Plasencia

Founder and Editor at INmatteria©
• Architect | LEED AP BD+C, with an intense passion for materiality, innovation, technology and science. • Arquitecta | LEED AP BD+C apasionada por la materialidad, innovación, tecnología y ciencia.