Materiality Driven // Jonathan Eden

04/03/2018

TGZ Architects - Chippendale Warehouse Project

Photo: Obesco Glass Bricks

Abstract: Architects have the responsibility to be sensitive of the approach for each project. Just like with anything in the world, no one project is ever the same as the other. Materiality gives character to space and allows one to feel depth, height, expanses, and contractions.

 

Audience: Architects, students, and problem solvers approaching design with materials in mind.

"Materiality Driven"

 

Architects have the responsibility to be sensitive of the approach for each project. Just like with anything in the world, no one project is ever the same as the other. There will always be different sites, clients, programs, budgets, and time constraints. The challenge of design is understanding what is the most important aspect that drives the design. There is never one single solution to the equation.

 

Thinking about what materials to use in a design is an extremely important variable in the equation. Materiality gives character to space and allows one to feel depth, height, expanses, and contractions. Differences in texture, color, transparency, and gloss changes how the eye perceives a space and has a direct influence on the psychological realm of special experience directly affecting architecture. Not only can material change the expression and experience of architecture, it can also have an influence on the physical dimension of structure.

When designers focus on a specific building material too early in the design process, a fixation can lead to decisions that shape the architecture in dimension based on the module of the material. In some instances, it would be completely appropriate to derive a design around a specific material for the quality that the material brings to the space. For example, there is more freedom given to the designer when a project is allowed to stand alone as a cohesive composition like that of a new build or construction.

 

Although it is still appropriate to respond to the site and surroundings, the building may have a unique atheistic. However, in some instances, no matter how unique and tantalizing the building material may be, it may not work for the application. The hardest task is creating architecture that responds to an existing condition.

House No. 1

Photo: Karl Ndieli

Design + Make studio has had the challenge of taking a kit house from the early 1900’s and revitalizing it to become a relevant piece of architecture today. The studio has closely examined the existing condition of this architectural relic. The first question was what to do with the house. Spatially, it was, and continues to be, a puzzle of locking program into a usable and logical house to act as a short-term housing for either a weekend getaway or an artist in residence.

 

Through iterations of proposals, a design concept of adding on to the existing porch was brought forward. This addition provided square footage that made the house more suitable to the needs of visitors and more inviting. At the same time of this proposal a unique and intriguing material was researched. Glass brick quickly found its way into the design as the exterior walls of the addition to the front of the house.

Glass brick proposal rendering

The idea behind the transparent brick was to allude to the character of the red brick clad Volland Store while allowing the original face of the house to remain symbolically obscured yet visible. In all regard, this approach seemed completely appropriate and responsive to the historical significance of the house while introducing a modern aesthetic.

 

Unfortunately, the brick was found to have a few drawbacks that affected the design. For example, the module became a driving force for the dimension of the addition creating problems of proportion to the original house. The addition did not stay within the roof structure of the porch and jetted out.

Glass brick module dimensions

Through further research, the brick was found to have a lack of thermal performance and insulative properties. The climate of the Kansas Prairie would easily penetrate the glass and cause issues like severe heat load in the summer and condensation in the winter. Even without all these disadvantages, the material inflated the budget to double that of what was originally planned. However beautiful the brick was, even the client commented that it seemed that wrapping the addition in glass brick seemed that it was too much for the historical house to bear.

 

The provocation from this experience is that, even though designers are always looking for materials that are unique, beautiful, and new, the materiality of the design can either enhance the quality of the finished project or create more problems. The key is the balance of every aspect of design to find a solution that is true and appropriate.

Written by Jonathan Eden