Playing Favorites: 5 architects and their favorite materials

November 21, 2018



Patrick Kasingsing

Materiality is what creates the experience, like the breath unfettered upon entering a building. It is those perceptible by touch; a hand on the frigid metal knob, back against the wood-paneled wall, or the elongated traces left on the hard glass window as one starts to walk, fingers still on surface. Materiality is the relationship between form, function, and location. And it is the material used in the construction of buildings that elevates the durability and visual aspects of design. It augments the overall venustas, but it also supplies it meaning, completing the building’s firmitas and utilitas. These five architects exhibit all three through their material of choice.

favorite materials
GC Prostho Museum Research Center by Kengo Kuma

1. GC Prostho Museum Research Center (Wood)

The design for this dentistry museum was inspired by a traditional Japanese toy, the Chidori, which consists of wooden sticks bound by uniquely shaped joints. Kengo Kuma, a Japanese architect and professor in the Department of Architecture at the University of Tokyo, decided to prove the toy’s architectural viability by scaling up its usual 12mm by 12mm size to 60mm by 60mm units. A grand total of 6,000 cypress wood pieces were used to enclose the museum’s 9-meter tall volume. His penchant for using wood and repetitive units in the design can also be seen in the newly completed Japan House Cultural Center in Sao Paulo, Brazil, and the Tokyo Olympic Stadium.

favorite materials
Ningbo Museum by Wang Shu

2. Ningbo Museum (Reclaimed materials)

Architect and professor Wang Shu designed the Ningbo Museum as the architectural representation of the nearby mountains and waters of the East China Sea, two natural features that played vital roles in the history and prosperity of the city of Ningbo. Like his other designs, he made use of local techniques, whose form speaks the modernist vernacular but whose texture and technique celebrates the city’s rich cultural past. Millions of old tiles, bamboo, and other used materials were used for the museum’s façades. As an ardent advocate of traditional construction techniques, he made it part of his course requirements as an educator in the China Academy of Art to teach freshman students basic carpentry and bricklaying.

favorite materials
St. Andrew the Apostle Parish by Leandro Locsin

3. St. Andrew the Apostle Parish (Concrete)

Leandro Locsin is a Renaissance man whose love for the piano made him pursue a degree in music, before shifting last minute to architecture. One can sense a musicality in the architectural spaces this highly esteemed Filipino architect designed. Even more admirable is that he was able to do this with a coarse material such as concrete. The sculptural heights and ambition he bestows on concrete are apparent in his design for the St. Andrew the Apostle Parish in Makati, where he took inspiration from the X-shaped cross the church’s patron saint was martyred on. A billowing tent-like cleaved roof and sculptural entrances cloak a butterfly-shaped floor plan, whose focal point is a bronze crucifix by National Artist Vicente Manansala.

favorite materials
Takatori Church by Shigeru Ban

4. Takatori Church (Cardboard/Paper tubes)

When the Great Hanshin earthquake of 1995 struck Kobe, Japan, the original structure housing the Takatori Catholic Church was destroyed. Shigeru Ban designed and built a temporary church pro bono for the homeless congregation made out of recycled paper cardboard tubes, which was christened the “Paper Dome.” After a permanent home was finally built in 2005, the church was dismantled and readied for yet another mission: to serve as the home of displaced parishioners from Nantou County, Taiwan, victims of the 1999 Jiji earthquake. Renowned for his ‘paper architecture,’ he famously designed a paper tube cathedral for the city of Christchurch in New Zealand when a devastating quake destroyed their centuries-old cathedral.

favorite materials
Termitary House by TROPICAL SPACE (Nguyen Hai Long and Tran Thi Ngu Ngon)

5. Termitary House (Brick)

Termite mounds or ‘termitaries,’ as well as the region’s historic Champa baked-brick towers, inspired the architecture of this cubic clay-brick space in Da Nang, Vietnam. The house has a large central space and copious openings to allow light and air to enter and exit throughout the space. The spare and efficient layout of the space, as well as the recycling of building materials led to a house that cost only 22,000 USD to build. TROPICAL SPACE, founded by architects Nguyen Hai Long and Tran Thi Ngu Ngon, is renowned for their frequent usage of clay bricks in their structures, owing to its local cultural value, versatility, and efficient thermal mass properties, perfect for Vietnam’s harsh summers and strong monsoons. B ender

This article first appeared in BluPrint Vol 2 2018. Edits were made for BluPrint online.

READ MORE: For whom the bell tolls: PH heritage landmarks left in ruins

Article Credits: 

Written by Patrick Kasingsing

Introduction and edits by Arielle Abrigo

Illustrations by Cesar Ramirez Jr.

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