Material Innovation: Architecture, by Andrew H. Dent & Leslie Sherr.

Material Innovation: Architecture, by Andrew H. Dent & Leslie Sherr.

Credit: Courtesy Thames & Hudson

Material Innovation: Architecture, written by Material ConneXion’s Dr. Andrew H. Dent and Leslie Sherr, is the first of a ten-part series about novel materials that are shaping the discourse of technology in design for both practitioners and laypeople. Released in celebration of more than a decades’ worth of material consulting around the globe, this approachable book reads as an informal catalogue of products and processes collected during that timeframe, with examples of how they can be applied optimally to buildings.

Material ConneXion was started in 1997 by George M. Beylerian to serve as a database of the most advanced and innovative materials available to architects and designers. Today, it hosts the world’s largest physical library of over 7,000 materials and processes.

Beylerian’s preface reveals his passion for new ideas that stem from discovery of new materials. This process of discovery “recalibrates our imagination and sets the stage for that great collaboration when art and science come together to seize the moment and create something new,” he writes.

“’What’ we make, and ‘how’ we make, are essential to the definition and production of form, function, and perception,” Gail Peter Borden, AIA, associate professor of architecture at the University of Southern California, writes in the introduction of the book. “Materials are the essence of what architecture really is.”

Schwarz Architekten employed 148 square meters  (1,593 square feet) of PCM on the south-facing façade of the building. By covering their structure in this innovative material, the architects have taken an unprecedented step toward adaptive and efficient building design.

Schwarz Architekten employed 148 square meters (1,593 square feet) of PCM on the south-facing façade of the building. By covering their structure in this innovative material, the architects have taken an unprecedented step toward adaptive and efficient building design.

Credit: Gaston Wicky


Both Dent and Sherr balance their respective sides of material expertise and brand consulting to create a collection of buildings representing the best use of a particular material in a creative way. Staying true to their focus on materials, the book divides its five chapters by chemical composition: Glass & Ceramics, Altered Naturals, High-Performance Composites, Digitally Fabricated Metals, and Polymer Films. Each chapter contains anywhere from six to eight buildings, ranging from digitally modeled, CNC-milled parametric oak paneling on the Kilden Performance Arts Center in Norway to parametric steel with laser-cut aluminum hexagonal panels on the Soumaya Museum in Mexico City.

  • Kilden Performing Arts Centre in Kristiansand, Norway, designed by ALA architects. Kilden’s undulating oak façade cantilevers up to 115 feet (35 meters) to hover above the water’s edge at its peak.

    Credit: Tuomas Uusheimo

    Kilden Performing Arts Centre in Kristiansand, Norway, designed by ALA architects. Kilden’s undulating oak façade cantilevers up to 115 feet (35 meters) to hover above the water’s edge at its peak.
  • [C]SPACE Pavilion, by Alan Dempsey and Alvin Huang.

    Credit: Courtesy NEX Architecture | © James Brittain

    [C]SPACE Pavilion, by Alan Dempsey and Alvin Huang.
Within the chapters, the text gives not only specific details in the creation of the buildings, but goes into the inspiration, cultural relevance, and process of the building. Dent and Sherr’s approachable language makes even the novice reader feel at ease, while the book’s organization provides easy-to-navigate references for architects seeking inspiration. Material Innovation: Architecture boasts 415 color photographs and illustrations, from close-ups of woven mats made up of recycled material to full-fledged panoramas of structures. In addition, seven “visual narratives,” or pictorial collages, bookend each chapter, detailing works and processes by firms such as Kengo Kuma & Associates, Zaha Hadid Architects, and Morphosis Architects. The book also includes an illustrated directory of all the materials used in the projects, referencing each material’s manufacturer and potential application as well as how to acquire it. This index is just a small fraction of the Material ConneXion’s massive database, but will provide ample inspiration for the next big project seeking the most innovative materials possible. • $29.95; Thames & Hudson, June 2014.

Turner Contemporary Gallery, by David Chipperfield Architects. The foyer is lit by two-story windows and has a low ceiling, which shades entrants from the noon sun and provides enough shadow for the line drawing of a book by Michael Craig Martin to glow faintly in pink neon.

Turner Contemporary Gallery, by David Chipperfield Architects. The foyer is lit by two-story windows and has a low ceiling, which shades entrants from the noon sun and provides enough shadow for the line drawing of a book by Michael Craig Martin to glow faintly in pink neon.

Credit: © Richard Bryant / Arcaid.co.uk