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Materiality in architecture is a concept which deals with the selection and application of different materials or substances in the construction of a building. The concept of materiality has recently gained traction as a result of advances in the field of digital modeling and fabrication.

The first thing that catches the eye while looking at a building is, undoubtedly, its shape or form, but it is through the use of different materials that this is achieved. Materials, along with structure, are responsible for creating the form in buildings.

Materiality in architecture

For the process of construction to begin, appropriate materials must be selected first. And this selection criteria is dependent upon the functionality of the building, the availability of the materials as well as how the architect wishes to express their design. Thus materials are a prerequisite in the construction of any architectural establishment.

Significance of Materiality in Architecture

As important as the concept of materiality is to the visible expression of an architect’s idea, it has geographical, political, historical, and cultural significance as well. Materiality plays a crucial role in providing durability and strength to a building.

And while using certain materials during the construction of an establishment, it is crucial to take into account the long-term effects on the environment, along with the building occupants. Thus the concept of materiality plays a fundamental part, and its relevance is not restricted to a single area.

Environmental Considerations

When designing any architectural establishment, it is essential to consider the environmental impact of the construction process, and as problems of waste disposal increase, the demolition stage also needs to be taken into account. The construction industry consumes a huge amount of raw materials, and this amount is growing day by day, which is leading to the depletion of natural resources and an increase in CO2 emissions all over the world.

Efforts should be made to reduce the strain on the environment caused by buildings in terms of natural resource consumption as well as pollutants and waste generation due to the use of different construction materials. Thus the selection and application of appropriate and sustainable materials in the process of constructing a building is very crucial.

Aesthetic Considerations

When a building is designed, numerous criteria need to be considered. In addition to durability, functionality, and safety, another important factor is the aesthetic appeal of a building. Aesthetics in architecture are not confined to the visible structure of an establishment; instead, it is the combined effect of a building’s shape, size, color, space, texture, symmetry, proportion, alignment, and context.

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Taiwan's tallest bamboo construction
Taiwan’s tallest bamboo construction
Image Courtesy: Business Wire

This expression of design is not separate from material selection. The choice of material is always influenced by aesthetic preferences, and some materials can help increase the appeal of a building and draw people in. Materials like wood, cinder blocks, and glass are used in multiple ways to achieve artful designs. In contrast to traditional construction materials, a few eco-friendly options like bamboo and rammed earth walls are increasingly being preferred due to their aesthetic appeal as well.

Sustainable Options

1. Straw Bales

Straw bales are made from a waste product and are used as a construction and an insulating material. After the edible part of the grain (like wheat, rice, rye, etc.) has been harvested, the farmers are left with the stalks, which have to be disposed of. By turning the straws into bales, a new building material is created, which is both eco friendly and serves a dual purpose.

Since straw is easily available in most of the regions, the transportation costs of construction are significantly reduced. Straw bales have historically been used as a building and insulation material in many places across the globe, but it has recently received increased attention due to its sustainable properties.

2. Hempcrete

Hempcrete is an eco-friendly building material made by mixing lime and hemp in set proportions with an appropriate quantity of water. The particles get glued together as a result of a chemical reaction between the lime binder and the water.

Building made of hempcrete
Building made of hempcrete
Image Courtesy: Isohemp

It is a versatile material and can be used for buildings, insulating walls, linings, roofs, screeds, attic spaces, etc. Hempcrete is a naturally-sourced, non-toxic, environment-friendly, low-impact building material and is being widely adopted in architectural projects across the world.

3. Mycelium Bricks

A mycelium brick is an organic brick that is created from organic waste and the mycelium of fungus. Mycelium is the invisible part of mushrooms, which are their ‘roots’ that consist of minuscule threads called hyphae. After drying, it can be used as a very strong and organic building material.

It is also water, mold, and fire-resistant and can be grown into specific forms, thus reducing the cost of processing. It is an eco-friendly, non-toxic, and biodegradable material, and although the architectural and construction industry has only recently taken a serious interest in this material, it seems to have a very promising future.

4. Ashcrete

Ashcrete is an alternative to traditional concrete. It is made by using fly ash, a byproduct of burning coal, instead of traditional cement. By using fly ash, 97% of the conventional components in concrete can be replaced with recycled material. This newer alternative has dramatically increased the strength and durability and is also a cheaper option since fly ash costs less than cement.

5. Bamboo

Historically, bamboo has been used as a building material in many parts and communities of the world. Bamboo is environmentally friendly, widely available, and has high adaptability to different climatic conditions.

However, not every species of bamboo can be used for construction since every species has distinct structural and mechanical properties. Bamboo is increasingly being used in newer architectural designs due to its versatility and sustainability, and earthquake resisting properties.

6. Rammed Earth

Rammed earth is a technique that has been used since ancient times, but its popularity gradually declined over time. Rammed earth walls are constructed by filling a mixture of gravel, sand, silt, a small amount of clay, and a stabilizer, between flat panels of plywood called formwork.

It is then compressed repeatedly until a freely standing wall of rammed earth is created. But as this is an old technique, newer methods are being explored for use in today’s world. Rammed earth walls are strong, aesthetically pleasing, and environment-friendly.

7. Corten Steel 

Corten steel or weathered steel comprises a group of steel alloys which is used in outdoor building works. When left untreated for a few months, it uses its rust to provide resistance against corrosion and subsequent damage to the material. Corten steel has the robustness and ability to blend seamlessly into its surroundings, making it suitable for use in outdoor landscape, façade element, and some bridges.

FAQs

What is materiality in construction?

Materiality in construction is a concept which deals with the selection and application of different materials or substances in the construction of a building.

What are some eco-friendly materials to look out for in the coming years?

1. Straw Bales
2. Hempcrete
3. Mycelium Bricks
4. Ashcrete
5. Bamboo
6. Rammed Earth
7. Corten Steel

What are straw bales made from?

Straw bales are made from waste stalks from wheat, rye, etc., and are used as a construction and an insulating material.

How is hempcrete prepared?

Hempcrete is made by mixing lime and hemp in set proportions with an appropriate quantity of water.

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