Book Review: Materials for Design 2

Materials for Design 2 by Victoria Ballard Bell and Patrick Rand
Princeton Architectural Press, 2014
Paperback, 272 pages

Materials for Design was one of my favorite books I reviewed in 2007 (the book was published in 2006). In it, sixty case studies in five chapters (glass, concrete, wood, metals, and plastics) aim at strengthening the integral relationship between materials and design for students of architecture. The sequel, again penned by Bell and Rand, takes basically the same approach, adding masonry as a sixth chapter, but otherwise staying with the same format (and even the same tally of projects) that made the first book so good, all the while improving upon the few deficiencies of the first book (for me, that was mainly the inconsistent nature of the detail drawings).

The focus is still on educating students (some of the content came actually from a graduate seminar Rand taught at NC State University), but this time there is an awareness of the increasing popularity of design/build programs in American architectural schools as well as those abroad. There are Rural Studio, Studio 804, and design/buildLAB, to name just a few. But Studio 804 out of Lawrence, Kansas, is the only design/build program with a project in Materials for Design 2. This is too bad, not only considering the explicit reference to such programs in the book, but also because these academic programs are often laboratories for experimenting with materials. Think of early Rural Studio, such as the chapel made from car windshields, or almost any recent Solar Decathlon project, and material innovation is somewhere to be found.

The projects vary greatly in terms of geography, appearance, and how they creatively use their respective materials. The main consistency is a scale, as all of the buildings are quite small: ranging from a one-room pavilion in Basel to a seven-story office building in Copenhagen. This points to the fact small buildings offer room for experimentation with materials, since their scale does not require as great an investment as, say, a skyscraper, stadium or airport. Further, a number of the projects are temporary structures (making the Solar Decathlon omission glaring) – Thomas Heatherwick's UK Pavilion at the 2010 World Expo in Shanghai and the Italian Pavilion by Iodice Architetti at the same Expo, to name a couple – which signals the innovation opportunities that expos and other exhibitions allow.

The most welcome change from the first book is the addition of masonry as one of the material chapters. This is apparent even before opening the book, given how the glazed ceramic rods of Sauerbruch Hutton's Brandhorst Museum in Munich graces the cover. There are also traditional applications of brick as load-bearing walls, but this chapter alone shows the innovation that can happen in the make-up of the materials, how they are combined, and what sort of architecture they create. Not surprisingly, I lean toward the porous masonry walls of Anagram's South Asian Human Rights Documentation Center, Arturo Franco's Warehouse 8B Conversion, and Archi-Union's J-Office + Silk Wall. While one of the oldest materials, the contemporary uses of masonry show its design possibilities, like the materials in the rest of the book, are hardly exhausted.