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DETAIL 1-2/2019 - Material Aesthetics

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Can architecture lie? In other words, when is a building “honest” about the materials used in it? The debate regarding the authenticity of materials, on the one hand, and artful disguise, on the other, has been an integral component of architectural discourse for centuries. In the current issue of Detail, we explore how categories are shifting in the light of new technical possibilities. 

In Zürich, for example, Diener & Diener enveloped the new administrative centre of Swiss Re in a filigree curtain of curved glass. The gentle wave effect not only adds depth to the outside of the building but also divides it up in a classic way, i.e. into base, middle section and two attic storeys. In Stockholm, Urban Design and Gottlieb Paludan Architects covered the steel skeleton of a combined heat-and-power station in large terracotta tiles. Finally, in Grândola in southern Portugal, Aires Mateus enclosed the new sculpture-like old-people’s meeting centre in a smooth-plastered composite thermal insulation system. Is that dishonest? And how is material honesty defined in the case of composite materials like the large sandwich panels that Alejandro Soffia used for a semi-detached house on the Pacific coast of Chile?

In all the projects in this issue, the materials used determine what the building expresses. And all of them show that previous certainties applied to the evaluation of materials have begun to change, a fact that is especially true where 3D printing is used to join materials together. This method is adopted in order to print sandstone elements with bonding agents made of synthetic resin or a steel bridge where nobody exactly knows whether the material used in it can even absorb tensile stress. These and other examples in our technical article show that a new technology looks for the appropriate design language, whereby the task of separating useful approaches from inappropriate ones often still has to be performed. Nevertheless, we will undoubtedly continue to use 3D printing – the hoped-for time- and cost-savings as well as the freedom of design associated with it are simply too big.

Sandra Hofmeister, Jakob Schoof and the editorial team

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