It is all about materials
Some exceptional buildings are around, but what about the majority of structures? Why are they becoming predictable and ordinary?
There was a time when building materials were limited and design options few, within which our elders created houses and offices. These apparent limitations did not stop them from creating amazing buildings, monuments and historic cities, which even today continue to be the backbone of the world tourism industry.
In contrast, today we have thousands of options, yet do not seem to create buildings of equal worth, for the future generations to cherish. Few exceptional buildings are around, but what about the majority of structures? Why are they becoming predictable and ordinary?
One of the major causes appears to be the role played by design vs. materials. The handful of materials available then meant all buildings would look alike; as such the challenge was to evolve attractive designs wherein design gained pre-eminence over the materials. Not that those materials were neglected, but materials did not have domination over the design.
Market and materials
Today, it is the reign of market and materials. Every other construction related event gets sponsored by some product manufacturer, material company or supplier; building material exhibitions are among the most crowded ones around; and material manufacture is racing with other industries to get financial highlight.
What is the relevance of all this talk in the context of green sense? Most materials are getting sold thanks to buzz words like advanced technology, improved performance, assured longevity, ease of maintenance, style of the day, attractive aesthetics, amazing surface finish, sold in 50 countries and such others. They never mention equally valid words like high embodied energy, industrial waste, depleting natural resources, challenge of disposal, increased indoor heat, sterile looks, volatile organic compounds and such others. How can materials that consumed high energy for production and execution create an energy efficient building?
Yet, in these days when the material seems to dominate the design, most buildings fail to face the eco-challenge. It is a fact that much research and development activity has shaped these manufactured materials, but do we stop by to think at what cost to nature and when will that cost be reimbursed to nature again? In many nations, we can access material catalogue, choose the item and order – no hassle of going to consultants.
If this trend comes to our context, what about architectural creativity, house customization or design development? Thanks to technology, new product launches happen every week and imagine, every product needs to earn to make profits. Where would all that resource come from?
The idea is not to portray materials in the negative, for they have always influenced design even during historic times, but in those days the power of material was limited. However the shift from natural to manufactured, need-based to market-driven and subordination to domination are greatly impacting architecture. We design ordinary boxes, yet make them catch the eye by finishing them with high-end materials. The role of materials has changed, hence the need for caution.