There are many materials available in the 21st century market for architects to experiment with. As the world is moving towards a sustainable living, architecture has also developed techniques and solutions to run with the others. Many structures require a different approach regarding its structural construction and material usage in terms of location and climate. But there are many architects who have invested their time, energy and knowledge into creating structures with the help of materials which are not conventional and might raise questions in the future.

Here are 15 architects who designed structures with unconventional materials:

1. Frank Gehry

The renowned contemporary architect is famous for his works including the Guggenheim Bilbao in Spain, Walt Disney Concert Hall in Los Angeles, and Neuer Zollhof in Dusseldorf. The Pritzker Prize-winning architect is regarded as more a sculptor than an architect for his astounding structures, curvy facades, and sleek exteriors.

The use of titanium in the Guggenheim Bilbao is striking; taking fanciful shapes, capturing and reflecting light at every angle.

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Guggenheim Bilbao in Spain ©
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Walt Disney Concert Hall in Los Angeles ©
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Neuer Zollhof in Düsseldorf ©

2. Shigeru Ban

Shigeru Ban is the 2014 Pritzker Laureate who has extensively worked with materials ranging from paper tubes to cardboard. He believes that architecture must be sustainable, usable, with being aesthetic. He has extensively experimented with paper tubes right from the year 1986. The designs of cardboard tubes for disaster management has proved to be vital. His structures have proven resilient, long-lasting, high quality, and low cost. Some examples of his structures are Cardboard Pavilion in New Zealand, Paper Dome in Taiwan, Paper Log houses in Japan, Paper Church in Japan.

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Cardboard Pavilion in New Zealand ©
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Paper Dome in Taiwan ©
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Paper Log houses in Japan ©

3. Neri Oxman

Neri Oxamn is an American-Israeli architect and designer, whose 3D printing and fabrication techniques have combined art and architecture with biology, engineering, and computing. Her works have been displayed in exhibitions and won her awards. Her experiments with 3D printing include the Silk Pavilion built with nylon frames released by silkworms, Glass I built by 3D printed optically transparent glass, Ahuahoja which is fabricated by water-based biocomposites, Ocean Pavilion built by chitosan which is a water-based fabrication method.

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Silk Pavilion ©
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Programmable Biocomposites for Digital Fabrication©
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Glass I  ©

4. Emerging Objects

Emerging Objects is an architecture design firm that specializes in creating structures and spaces that are 3D printed. They have worked with a wide range of materials to create innovative, yet usable spaces. The firm has worked on a 3D printed house in Beijing made of salt and concrete. Their method aims to create sustainable solutions.

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3d printed Salt House in Beijing ©
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3D printed cabin ©
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Seed Stitch Wall ©

5. Michael Reynolds

Architect Michael Reynolds started building ‘Earthship’ homes in the 1970s, where he started using non-biodegradable materials in the construction. Non-recyclable materials like cans, tyres, glass bottles, plastic bottles, cardboard are used along with rammed earth. The use of recycled materials with traditional materials, with an approach to combine traditional education is his approach to promoting sustainable living.

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Michael Reynolds ©
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The first Earthship school ©
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Earthship home ©

6. David Easton

David Easton is known to be the pioneer of rammed earth construction, working in rammed earth for over four years. He has written books on his extensive work with rammed earth. Rammed earth has been long used as construction materials dating back to the ancient times of the Babylon and Chinese civilizations. Rammed earth is a sustainable material with high thermal mass, aesthetic in colour, and texture.

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Windhover Contemplative Center ©
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Residence in St. Helena ©
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Stadium Techcenter in Santa Clara, CA. ©

7. Heatherwick Studio

The Heatherwick Studio designed the UK Pavilion at the 2010 Expo in Shanghai, also known as the Seed Cathedral. The structure was created using 60,000 acrylic rods with around 250,000 plant seeds at the ends. The intention was to give a message to save seeds. The transparent fibre optic rods let in light during the day and light up the entire structure at night. The rods also have a dynamic effect when they move with the wind.

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Seed Cathedral ©
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Seed Cathedral ©
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Seed Cathedral ©

8. Hassan Fathy

Hassan Fathy is an Egyptian architect who pioneered and re-established the use of adobe in architecture. He used sustainable, climatically efficient, and indigenous mud for constructing homes. He is known as the ‘architect for the poor’. He won several awards for his work including the Aga Khan Chairman’s Award in 1980. He also authored books related to vernacular architecture.

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Mosque at Kurna, Luxor by Hassan Fathy ©
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New Baris Public School ©
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Andreoli Residence ©

9. David Hertz

David Hertz is an American architect, known for his extensive work in sustainable architecture. He is an innovator of recycled materials used in building construction. The ideology is to create regenerative, environmentally sustainable spaces aimed to reverse global climate change. David Hertz developed Syndecrete, which is concrete with post-consumer and industrial waste like fly ash, wood, crushed glass, and propylene carpet fibres. Projects like Mullin Automotive Museum, 747 Wing House, Panel House in California won him fame.

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747 Wing House ©
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Panel House ©
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Mullin Automotive Museum ©

10. Edouard Arsenault

Edouard Arsenault started using glass bottles in structures of various sizes, shapes, and colours which are cemented together. Some of his structures have become tourist attractions like the Six-Gable House, which is made of 12,000 bottles. He also made a Chapel and Tavern.

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Six-Gable House ©
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Chapel ©
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Tavern ©

11. Arkin-Tilt Architects

Arkin-Tilt Architects is a firm specializing in energy-efficient, sustainable, and resource- efficient designs. They extensively use alternate construction materials and methods in their designs. The use of straw-bale in buildings has been seen in the Watershed Straw Bale Residence, Santa Cruz Strawbale home. The firm focuses on carbon sequestration and bio-genetic building materials.

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Watershed Straw Bale Residence ©
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Santa Cruz Strawbale home ©
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Mill Valley Straw-Bale Residence ©

12. David Benjamin

David Benjamin is the principal architect of ‘The Living’, who designed a structure from biodegradable materials. The gallery pavilion is a pleasant microclimate, made of clusters of circular towers. The bricks that are grown from agricultural byproducts like corn stalks and mushroom mycelium are stacked using a natural digestive glue. The use of mycelium in this structure has been widely acclaimed.

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Hy-Fi Organic Mushroom-Brick Tower ©
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Hy-Fi Organic Mushroom-Brick Tower ©
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Hy-Fi Organic Mushroom-Brick Tower ©

13. StAndré-Lang Architects

StAndré-Lang Architects designed a simple housing prototype in France. The simple 20 sqm house is evolved from a circle, made from a face of mesh wires and wooden frames, filled with cobs of corn. The structure is low-cost, sustainable, creative, and aesthetic. The façade changes with the changing season due to the properties of corn.

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Tourner autour du Ried ©
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Tourner autour du Ried ©
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Tourner autour du Ried ©

14. Salar de Uyuni

Salar de Uyuni is the Bolivian salt plain that houses hotels made of salt. The geodesic domes of the Palacio de Sal are placed on the endless surface of the salt plain, with bar, restaurants, spa, saltwater pool, and whirlpool baths. The hotels have been categorized as the world’s most unusual hotels. The Kachi Lodge is another example of hotels made of salt.

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Palacio de Sal ©
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Kachi Lodge ©
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12 Salt Hotel ©

15. Koru Architects

Koru Architects is an award-winning design firm that specializes in making spaces that are sustainable, environment-friendly, unique, and innovative. The extensive use of hempcrete in their structures demonstrates versatility in designs and the use of natural building materials. The structures have low embodied energy, thermal insulation, lightweight, recyclable, and low maintenance.

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Hemp-built house in Israel ©
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The first hemp house in Asheville, North Carolina ©
Koru Architects - Sheet3
Hemp Cottage in County Down, Northern Ireland ©

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