Sustainable Design: Methods and Tools
Material Transitions Lab series intends to challenge sustainability within architecture pedagogy. By enabling
students to develop an ecological perspective through an analytical and critical attitude, the today’s paradigm
shift in building construction shall be examined. The five workshops conceive sustainability in architecture not
as a given formula but as an ongoing set of collective sociocultural practices that students will need to actively
embrace as future architects and global citizens.
Our entry point will be represented by materials most commonly employed in the construction industry. Drawing
from Mark Jarzombek’s article “The Quadrivium Industrial Complex” (2019), questioning the most important
building materials concrete, glass, steel, and plastic, we will intentionally shift our attention from the so-called,
and the often debated, operational emissions of the built environment to the embodied emissions – intended
as the sum of all the emissions required to produce any goods or services, considered as if that emissions were
incorporated or ‘embodied’ in the products themselves. Mining, production, delivery, and assembly processes
[the embodied emissions] of these materials have never been more extensive and cheaper than today, causing
an enormous impact on a planetary scale for humans and non-humans and their possible evolution in the
context of energy transition policies. In fact, energy transition and material transition are to be understood
as one and the same process.
The five workshops (plus a wrap-up session) will elaborate on different thematic threads related to the sustainable
transition of the construction industry and its materials, discussing innovation and criticalities. Referring back
to Gottfried Semper’s theory of “Stoffwechsel”, material transition is here intended as a symbolic and physical
transfer of forms and materials to new needs. In particular, Semper’s approach highlights the transregional
sociocultural exchange of building construction and its materials from one culture and moment in time to the
other. With the notion of material transition – translated from German “Stoffwechsel” – the workshops foreground
the process of outliving and mixing architectural elements and materials of the past to develop contemporary
sustainable new materials for architecture. Semper’s intuition sets the stage to convey the complexity behind
a holistic transition toward an ethical, sustainable construction industry. All five workshops will be centered on
the theoretical and practical understanding of the often invisible consequences determined by the construction
industry on an ecological and social level on humans and non-humans alike, thus informing students on the
global metabolism of architecture production.
During the workshops, invited guests will join us to provide practitioners’ and scholars’ perspectives on a
sustainable transition of materials combining theory and practice.
What are the relevant agencies of sustainable design today? This workshop series addresses the complex relationship between theory and practice in the field of sustainable design. Architects are increasingly forced to develop a new attitude toward their practice, questioning the carbon legacy of 20th century modernity. Although “practice” is commonly conceived as the counterpart of “theory,” the notion of a new “theory of practice” exceeds the dichotomy and promotes a specific approach to sustainability in architecture today. First and foremost, sustainable design depends on an awareness for the dialectics between theory and practice: Architects need to inform their ideas on sustainable design through a profound cognition of the construction sector and vice versa.
Written during the semester
Oral during the semester
- Bachelor of Science in Architecture, Construction and technology, Technical-Scientific Optional Courses, 3rd year