"Materials As Collections" the Illinois Institute of Technology

Image: Oyster Block E + Fly Ash

Leighton Beaman + Zaneta Hong will be presenting "Materials As Collections" at this year's National Conference on the Beginning Design Student [NCBDS] at the Illinois Institute of Technology.


"From the master/apprentice paradigm of learning building craft to the hallowed halls of formalized education, the historical trajectory of architectural study presents a challenge to integrating materiality within the conception and delineation of the built environment. Today representational tools and techniques are often compromised substitutes for the physicality of architectural works. Consequently, architecture’s pedagogical structures struggle to infuse tactility, material assembly, and making into the representational methodology of design education today."


To understand a material is to understand the collections of information, which define them. From chemical properties to application history, materials are the manifestations of manifold information sets. In creating a pedagogical approach to how one utilizes materials in the design process, the ability to access, analyze, organize, and manipulate information is paramount. The use of materials in design education has taken on many pedagogical frameworks - courses that examine materials in their ecological and technological context in the form of natural systems; courses that examine a specific material and study with its use in a focused but detached context, such as detail examination of built work; and courses that examine material selection, representation and rendering to communicate why specific selections are made and the phenomenological effects they produced.While all of these frameworks provide useful and varied inquiries into the question of materials in the design and production process, they share a common understanding of materials research as being adjacent to the design processes itself. Here, materials are to be studied in as much as they are selections to be made. 

In an academic setting, where research and innovation are on equal footing with practical know-how, the question of a materials-based pedagogy for design education is one we were interested in developing alternative answers to. By re-contextualizing materials as information sets, we sought to embed materials research into the core of the design process. With combined backgrounds in three different design disciplines (architecture, landscape architecture, and industrial design), we also were invested in developing materials-based pedagogies within the larger question of interdisciplinary design education. To do this, we began by examining the role of information in structuring how we work with materials.