In the realm of architecture, each building tells its story through the chosen materials that form its foundation. Building materials play a role in this narrative not only as integral components of the architectural process but also as expressions of creativity that can be seen and felt.

When selecting building materials, the chosen site has an influence. The surroundings of a site are crucial in determining the type of structure that will harmoniously blend with its environment. It is through the combination of site characteristics and material choices that a building’s identity begins to take shape.

The design and form of a structure go beyond functionality; they are manifestations shaped by thoughtful material selection. The concept of “building materials” extends beyond functionality it becomes a celebration of endurance and a symphony of elements in design. Choosing materials adds significance to the structure while enhancing its quality, embodying the timeless principles of “firmitas” (firmness) and “venustas” (beauty).

In this exploration, we delve into why building materials hold importance in the field of architecture.

In addition to serving purposes, these materials become part of architects’ language when communicating with the environment. They tell stories of strength, creativity, and everlasting beauty. As we balance the interplay between design and utility, it becomes clear that architecture’s true essence is intertwined with the nature of its materials. This creates a fusion of durability and visual charm.

Advancements in Construction Materials

In this exploration, we will dive into the captivating world of materiality in architecture with a focus on how innovative materials shape the core aspects of design, aesthetics, functionality, and environmental awareness. Researchers are actively developing materials that not only perform better but have a lighter impact on our planet—ideally, achieving both goals simultaneously. Looking ahead it is anticipated that natural materials like hemp and mycelium as synthetic ones such as carbon fiber and high performance plastics will play a significantly larger role in the construction process.

Carbon concrete

Let’s begin by discussing carbon fiber reinforced concrete. This remarkable composite material combines two high-performance components: carbon fiber fabrics or bars with grained concrete. The unique combination allows for shapes and exceptional load-bearing capacity. Additionally, due to the corrosion resistance of these fabrics and rebars, it becomes possible to minimize the amount of cover required while optimizing resource usage. Carbon fiber reinforced concrete offers benefits for construction; it saves resources, reduces material intensity, and results in lighter structures. Since its introduction, steel-reinforced concrete has been instrumental in constructing buildings with sturdy designs. However, because steel-reinforced concrete structures are prone to corrosion, their lifespan falls short of expectations. Concrete, being the used building material worldwide after water has always resulted in substantial resource and energy consumption. Moreover, steel usage versatility in construction and various industries leads to price fluctuations. This is where carbon-reinforced concrete comes into play. It minimizes material consumption overall. Replaces steel with carbon as a substitute. Since carbon doesn’t rust like steel does, less concrete is needed to protect against corrosion.

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world’s first building made of carbon concrete _©Dezeen

Chipboard from potato peelings

The production of plastic and particle boards involves the use of chemicals like urea formaldehyde, which is known to be a carcinogen. This poses risks to both health and the environment. Moreover these materials often cannot be recycled, resulting in an amount of waste. Shockingly, more than one-third of all medium-density fiberboard (MDF) ends up in landfills or incinerators due to manufacturing offcuts  In response to these challenges, the creators behind Chip[s] Board® have taken a circular economy approach by developing materials that utilize a waste” product. These materials are produced with water usage. Generate no production waste. Importantly, they contain no chemicals or non-biodegradable components. The designers aimed to address not material waste but the issue of food waste. One-third of all food produced goes unused. Ends up being discarded. To tackle this problem well, they have developed a sustainable alternative to wood using potato peelings from industrial food processing. To create this material, they collect potato peelings from manufacturers. Subject them to various refinement processes. This results in a binding agent that can be applied to fibers such as potato skins, bamboo, recycled wood, or beer hops. Afterward, they employ this technique to create the material by using heat and pressure to fuse the composite into a board. This board can then be transformed into items like furniture and construction materials. Once these products reach the end of their lifespan they can be sent to an industrial compost facility where they will naturally decompose and transform into fertilizer. This fertilizer can later be used on farms, returning nutrients to the land from which they were initially extracted.

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Potato skins recycled as substitutes for MDF boards _©

Design-Driven Innovations in Building Materials


Hemp has gained popularity among architects who are looking to reduce the impact of their projects. Here’s a collection of nine buildings that have been constructed using this plant.

There is increasing evidence suggesting that the construction industry must embrace bio-based alternatives to carbon-based building materials like concrete. This is necessary to reduce emissions and mitigate temperature increases. One such alternative that is gaining attention is hemp, a growing relative of marijuana. Hemp is already widely used as a biofuel and for textile purposes. According to Darshil Shah, a researcher from Cambridge University, hemp can effectively capture carbon as well as trees.

In the construction field, hempcrete has become quite popular. It is a material made from fibers and lime, offering durability, excellent insulation, and resistance to mold. This year, there has been growing momentum for materials like hempcrete. Many designers are advocating for its use in building structures. Architect Wandile Mthiyane even predicts that one day, modular building blocks made from plants and lime will significantly influence our built environment in ways.

Hempcrete provides the same durability and insulation as concrete, with only half the weight and lower energy consumption requirements. It also offers construction times, manipulation during building processes, and reliable insulation – all auspicious attributes indeed.

Furthermore, the unique structure of hurds allows them to absorb and release water as necessary making hempcrete a suitable choice for areas with humidity. Practice Architecture collaborated with farmers to construct a carbon-neutral home in Cambridgeshire, England. The construction process involved using fabricated panels, resulting in the house being assembled within a mere two days.

The Flat House is situated on Margent Farm, a 53-acre facility located in rural Cambridgeshire. This farm serves as a platform to showcase the applications of hemp, a growing variant of the cannabis plant. Hemp already finds use in industries such as clothing and biofuel production. It is increasingly gaining popularity as a building material due to its carbon sequestration capabilities.

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Practice Architecture, Oskar Proctor · Flat House _©


Fungi can be found everywhere in the air, water, our bodies, trees, in the ceilings of our bathrooms, and underground. They come in forms like mushrooms (some medicinal, others hallucinogenic or highly poisonous) as well as simpler molds. While they can cause illnesses, they also have properties such as producing antibiotics like penicillin or aiding in the fermentation of cheeses and breads.. Could fungi also play a role in the future of packaging and construction materials?

Mycelium is a root structure composed of fungus that when adequately dried, becomes a flexible, robust and waterproof material. Its excellent building qualities have led manufacturers to explore its use in natural veneers, floor tiles and sculptures. Some architects are also intrigued by its appearance when used raw and unprocessed. This bio-based material holds promise as a friendly option; however further research is needed to determine its viability for mass-scale applications.

During Milan Design Week, Carlo Ratti Associati showcased a structure made entirely out of mushrooms through a collaboration with energy company Eni.

The “Circular Garden” consists of a series of arches made from one kilometer of mycelium. The spores were injected into material to initiate the growth process. Unlike exhibition pavilions that generate a significant amount of waste Jardim Circular takes a more sustainable approach by returning its constituent mushrooms, ropes and shredded wood chips back, to the ground after the exhibition ends. The Shell Mycelium Pavillion, a collaboration between BEETLES 3.3 and Yassin Areddia Designs also showcases eco-design through structures. A wooden structure was covered with coconut marrow containing the fungus. With care, for days the mycelium grew and formed a protective snow-like layer over the structure. The upper layer eventually. Hardened due to sunlight exposure, creating a shell that safeguards the lower layers.

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The Circular Garden | Carlo Ratti Associati _©


Aouf, R.S. and Aouf, R.S. (2022) ‘Ten future materials that could change the way we build,’ Dezeen, 25 March.

Mercurio, F. (2022) New Year forecast: 7 trending architectural materials to watch in 2023.

CARBOCON: Carbon concrete (no date).,a%20high%20load%2Dbearing%20capacity.

Potato skins recycled as substitutes for MDF boards | The Strength of Architecture | From 1998 (no date).,other%20toxic%20resins%20and%20chemicals.

Barker, N. and Barker, N. (2023b) ‘Nine buildings constructed using hemp that show the biomaterial’s potential,’ Dezeen, 11 January.

Souza, E. (2023) Mushroom buildings? The possibilities of using Mycelium in architecture.