Choosing Architectural Materials



A primer on how to choose architectural building materials. In part 4 of the architecture short course I share my personal system for selecting materials and I walk you through the selection process for the case study residential project we’ve been following.

**RESOURCES** for a detailed look and review of my new material storage system (shown in the opening scene) as well as my favorite print, video and supplier resources look for the companion video to be released in the next few days. Also check: http://thirtybyforty.com/choosing-architectural-materials

The lesson is divided into five general categories:
1 – Physical characteristics
2 – Context
3 – Experiential qualities
4 – Cost
5 – Manufacturing concerns

Each category can be thought of democratically, that is, none is necessarily more or less important than another. Your design will begin to suggest what materials best represent your ideas.
Study the work of architects like Tadao Ando, Louis Kahn, Peter Zumthor, LeCorbusier or Aalto – and witness the depth of knowledge and skill they deployed using a relatively limited set of building materials: wood, concrete, glass, and brick. You can say quite a lot using a very spare palette of materials.

The real lesson here is that the material selections were a result of intentionally considering all aspects of the experience I wanted to create for our client as well as the necessity of building something durable and meaningful here in an extreme coastal environment. It has to look good and tell the right story. It has to comfort and shelter, reduce and minimize our impact on the site and recreate – in an abstract way – the quiet of the forest in the new place we’ve created.

It’s a tall order, but by following a process which prioritizes the most important characteristics for each part of the architecture you can find a methodology for choosing wisely.

Material selection requires you to be an observer and student of the built world. Study buildings you admire and note how the material qualities effect how you feel there. Choose a few simple materials and get to know them deeply. Concrete and wood are excellent places to start. And if you’re like Tadao Ando, perhaps make a career of. Learn to exploit their inherent qualities: heavy and light, cool and warm, malleable and permanent. Use these as a basis for your own explorations and tests to make your designs more truthful, more beautiful and more interesting.

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Please watch: “Inside My Sketchbook + An Architect’s Sketching Tools”

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