Material Choice

When designing, I have always paid particular attention to material choice, as I was taught to do. It was great as a student, designing theoretically, to pick interesting, often obscure materials to emphasize my architectural details from joinery to weathering. I like to think that this is a strength in design that I have which has directed my career path within architectural design. I often get to work on projects where budget takes a backseat to the creative process and the client demands fine details and materials (a dream for any designer).

This semester’s projects are intriguing for me as a designer and a teacher because we are limiting ourselves to found and re-purposed materials. I often return to the above image I found on the site Inhabitat as inspiration. In the heart of downtown Denver there is a 23 acre urban farm where students of the University of Colorado Denver built two tremendous projects to enhance the farm’s operation as well as to make a definitive statement about sustainable design as a part of the FEED Denver program. Using mostly salvaged materials the team put together a high design public gathering shelter and milking shed that do not easily give away their humble use or materials.

At first I thought using only re-purposed materials would simplify the design process and limit the pallet from which to design with, but have found it to have just the opposite affect. Now we are forced to search out materials from uncommon places and to creatively apply these materials to the design. I liken this approach to design to one of my favorite television series growing up “MacGyver”. We must design and build with whatever materials we can find within the time constraints placed, or Boom!

I have to admit that after years of choosing materials selfishly I am really enjoying the challenge of searching for uncommon waste materials to create a sustainable and exciting project. I know it is not impossible because it has been done before.  We have been drawing many ideas from the book, Rematerial: From Waste to Architecture. This book proves that using old materials and giving them a new life in a building not only keeps those materials from wasting away in a landfill, but also adds a considerable amount of character to the finished project.

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