Occasionally, a topic comes along that speaks to the gaps in knowledge more than the solutions. This issue—on building materials—is one of those occasions.
Some materials are bad for us, the building occupants. Some materials are bad for the planet—this relates to the choice of source, methods of extraction and processing. We are told to stick to locally sourced materials to reduce transport-related emissions. Experts’ advice is to reduce waste in construction and demolition. There are tools, like BIM, which facilitate design-for-disassembly and waste management.
All of this sounds simple enough. But the difficulty is that there can be contradictions between criteria. What if a locally sourced material, like timber, depletes a limited but important resource? Is it then better to increase carbon miles and import what you need? What if a material has high embodied energy but offers recyclability? Designers struggle to decide which is the better option, which is the less-worse. The good news is that Green labels are starting to make their presence felt in the industry; the bad news is that the question of metrics is far from resolved. Calculating embodied energy, for instance, is something only a full-time researcher can take on.
And so when we began shortlisting projects for this issue, we went a different way—we looked for buildings that used materials in strategic and defining ways. The palette had to be an important part of an expression of the architectural idea, its sense of place. It had to, of course, also offer an environmental point-of-view.
In this issue, you will find projects that we can imbibe lessons from on how local materials inflect architectural quality, how recycling can be alluring and sensible. The showroom in Hanoi, the house in Ho Chi Minh City and the restaurant in Kuala Lumpur—these are all examples of an architecture of materiality.
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