Use the following learning
objectives to focus your study while reading this month’s
ARCHITECTURAL RECORD / AIA Continuing Education article.
After reading this article, you will be able to:
why new materials are not readily introduced in the
the process two materials have gone through to become
used in construction.
the advantages of fiberglass and aerogel for construction.
When it comes to new materials, the
construction industry is not known for being a hotbed of innovation.
For a host of reasons, including economies of scale, numerous
code requirements, fragmented workforce, insufficient research
dollars, and demand for long-lasting and stable products,
this market sector tends to stick to the tried-and-true.
Yet change is inevitable, and nontraditional
components do emerge in architecture. Typically, they are
jettisoned from other industries that can afford to engage
in material research, and then only slowly find their place
in architecture. Fiberglass, for example, has been around
for a while and is well understood in certain commercial sectors,
but it required a practitioner like Toshiko Mori, AIA, who
has long been interested in fabrics and fabriclike materials,
to find a project-specific need and be willing to step outside
the realm of conventional fabrication methods to fashion the
popular boat material into a structural architectural component.
Aerogel was a scientific curiosity for the longest time, and
then had only limited application in space exploration, until
demand for energy-efficient systems in construction increased
sufficiently to make it worthwhile for chemical companies
like Cabot Corporation to determine how to exploit its insulation
properties here on Earth.
More recently, in the past decade, foamed
aluminum was only discovered by accident while two independent
companies were working to improve the physical properties
of their respective aluminum products; promoters of this strong,
lightweight new material are now working hard to establish
its architectural niche.
Professor Bill Price
at the University of Houstons College
of Architecture is developing and testing
Image: Courtesy Bill
Price, University of Houston
Practical applications in architecture
may speed up when broader policies and funding encourage the
material research. This seems to be the case with the exploration
of biobased composite structures at the University of Delaware,
where material scientists supported by various government
grants are trying to develop affordable building components
that reduce our dependency on fossil fuels and increase our
use of renewable and recyclable resources.
Certainly, these inventive contributions
to the field are all welcome. But those in the material-innovation
business envision a day when architects themselves will ask
what they need and then look for the material that will provide
it, rather than wait for something new to trickle down from
afar. One intriguing example of this is Bill Prices
work on translucent concrete. Now an assistant professor at
the University of Houstons Gerald D. Hines College of
Architecture, Price became fascinated with the idea several
years ago, when working on a competition with Rem Koolhaas
at the Office for Metropolitan Architecture in Rotterdam.
After discussing the concept at length with a broad range
of scientists, engineers, and builders from all over the world
and then producing and testing some samples, Price teamed
up with a European company to develop a product. The final
results are not yet in, but perhaps such an ambitious material
exploration from within architects own ranks will set
a precedent for other practitioners to follow.