When you think of a building – whatever scale or project type, the items that go to create that building are most frequently associated with the materials that are selected that define the appearance of the building. Brick, glass, wood, and metal are all great choices – but the decision on what to clad your project in goes a long way towards deciding things beyond the appearance. . … Welcome to EP 121: Material Selection
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The “When” jump to 4:13
When does it happen in the process? Is it early? Late? All the time? Do architects do it differently?
These were the questions we discussed in this section and one revelation that I discovered was that I have never had a conversation with another architect about when in the process they choose their materials. For me, the first time I start thinking about the materiality of the projects really has more to do with when I start assembling my drawings. If I am going to consider using a masonry wall – I don’t need to know which brick I am going to use, just whether or not I need to provide a certain thickness wall that will accommodate using masonry.
We also discussed when we start making those decisions. Andrew thinks that due to the nature of the projects he works on (K-12 schools), clients frequently drive the “when”. One of the things that has evolved over the last few years is our use of visualization software that depicts a more finished product. I discussed this in greater detail in the article “Renderings for Residential Design” about how we are indicating a more finished product MUCH earlier than in years past. I’m not entirely convinced this is a good thing because it moves the conversation more along the lines of “I don’t like that color of brick” rather than talking about how the space works.
The “Why” jump to 12:51
Why choose the material? What are the considerations? Do certain clients value characteristics over others?
Cost: This is a major consideration and driver in almost every decision that is made. When we get a budget (and we always have a budget) right out of the gate that will influence materiality. Where is the material coming from – am I paying a premium to get a certain material for my project? We also discuss how labor is almost always more expensive than materials. Due to the remote nature of some of the projects I have worked on, and the lack of specifically trained skilled labor, we will not use certain materials. For example, finding a mason in Northern Wisconsin is not as simple as you might think and if I want to build a brick wall, I’m having to import a brick mason in from another part of the state.
Performance – Maintenance – Durability – Climate: Maintenance and climate are strong motivators driving material selection and both of those drive performance. For Andrew, especially with his public work, how the material performs contributes directly towards its consideration for selection. Can we select a material that doesn’t need to be painted (think burnished block versus painted CMU) so you are trading upfront material cost for long-term reduced maintenance cost. Also, choosing a material based on climate and the labor market that develops to support that selection … let’s consider wood siding. I rarely get to use wood on the exterior of my projects because it requires routinely scheduled maintenance to keep it from falling apart or looking shabby. Even if I paint it, and despite the readily available labor market we have in Texas, we do not have the same robust industry of home painters here that you might find along the east coast. Few clients are interested in stripping down and repainting their house every few years because it is an expensive process.
Availability – This might be a bigger consideration for some architects than others. The project that I started that was remotely located in Wyoming was challenged due to a lack of concrete providers serving the residential market. The client wanted their home to be built using insulated concrete forms – a product that is readily available in some parts of the country, but not so much in middle-of-nowhere Wyoming.
Sustainability – We have people in my office who are extremely passionate about the sustainable considerations of the products they use, but the material marketplace has made really amazing progress towards driving sustainable considerations. In my office, we have a fairly sizeable material library, and just over a year ago we hired a dedicated employee whose sole purpose was to research the products we consider and to implement a system for consideration. Products that were determined to to irresponsible from a sustainable standpoint were eliminated.
The “How” jump to 33:09
How are they assembled/constructed? Which materials rely on different fastening or construction techniques? If I chose concrete, how will that concrete be expressed? If I go with a metal panel – how is it attached? What drives these construction choices?? Is it somewhat tied to the WHY above? Or does it matter at all??
Before I started doing the Architectural graphic posts, I did an article in 2014 on board-formed concrete and it is a post that still to this day generates an email or two every week. While the name alone suggests what is actually happening, there is a process required to get the results that most people have in mind when considering using this material.
Of all the examples that came to mind, the “how” of using a material, board-formed concrete came to mind because what it looks like is directly influenced by how it is made. There are several examples of “how” various materials are used is driven by how they are built. During the design process, you might consider a rammed earth wall for its aesthetics, the climate where it is being used, but the “how” for some materials will always be a major consideration if not THE consideration. (Let’s be honest, nobody is doing a rammed earth wall without knowing that there is an elevated expense associated with it.)
The “Who” jump to 40:21
Who chooses them in the end? Architect or client or both? How much influence and control do you have as an architect? There is a bit of “yes” to all of these questions because on almost all projects I have ever done the client has an opinion about the materiality on day one … but there are many decisions to be made and the architect/designer is typically responsible for assembling an overall and cohesive scheme on which materials are being used. I will receive directions on the general appearance of the project, typically in the form of images of spaces of projects that they like, but that is generally considered a starting point.
There were two stories shared during this section of the podcast, the first was on a cabana project I did a long time ago where the client really wanted everything to be made using stainless steel (Modern Cabana) and another was regarding a lecture I heard in 2014 from architect Thom Mayne (How to be the Best at What You Do) where he said that he will always address the clients programming requirements but the aesthetics of the project are off the table, stating “Why should I listen to them? They know nothing about aesthetics.” 49:50
This AND That jump to 50:42
We introduced the idea of a possible new segment back in episode 119: Architectural Defrag called This AND That and this is our first attempt at this new segment. Do we have a winner? You’ll have to let us know but I think we have an appropriate question to kick things off.
Quadruple your salary AND you can only eat hot dogs
Not surprisingly, because he’s pretty easy-going with these things, Andrew went for the money and the hot dog … but I had more questions. Do I get the quadruple salary for as long as I eat nothing but hot dogs, or is this a forever-type situation? Do I get to control the hot dog-to-bun ratio? because you can definitely have too much hot dog flavor.
Ep 121: Material Selection
The process of selecting materials, at least the part that anyone outside of the industry is concerned really centers around appearance, but that is only a small portion of the thought and consideration that goes into the process of making a final decision. Appearance, cost, performance, and durability are typically the considerations (in that order) of my own selection process but that order can change rapidly depending on the goals of the project and the needs of the client. There isn’t one specific way to work through material selections but it would appear that a process will start to manifest itself with some regularity based on the nature of the work.
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