How can one not be fond of the idea of creating something that outstands all of the existent thoughts and perspectives? There is speedy progress in the field where unique ideas are hanging on to a loose branch of the tree, ready to fall off and generate a new one. Forms have always blown our minds away, but what makes them possible is what we fail to appreciate more than it deserves. The market is now fleeting with numbers of materials that help in the realization of those dynamic and obscure forms and trendsetting designs. 

This article focuses on how our peers and seniors inspire us in creating unconventional designs using conventional materials out of the box; below is the list of 15 such materials:


This material first came into the light because of Shigeru Ban, a Japanese starchitect. He came up with the idea of designing a sustainable future. He has opened our minds to the diversity in design and opportunity. His work proves to us that one does not need to be using highly expensive materials to create an elite structure. 

His project, L’aquila Temporary Concert Hall in Italy, known as the Paper concert hall, consists of 44 cardboard pillars, clay sacks, accordion doors that accommodate 230 people under a simple pitched roof of steel.

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Exterior of the concert hall ©, 2011)
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The oval concert hall © (db, 2011)
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Entrance © (Meinhold, 2011)

2. Aluminum

The Louis Vuitton store in Tokyo, Japan, is a multi-layered structure with a 5 mm glazing of aluminum panels formed in a pack of the star-and-funnel shape of five different sizes. The LED light installed in the funnel pack of the façade creates a capturing play of light at night. The pearl-finished surface celebrates the play of light and shadow even in the daylight due to the gracefully punctured façade.

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Louis Vuitton Matsuya Ginza night-time ©Jun Aoki & Associates – Photo courtesy: DaiciAno
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Puncture detail ©Jun Aoki & Associates – Photo courtesy: DaiciAno
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Daytime view ©Jun Aoki & Associates – Photo courtesy: DaiciAno
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Façade lighting ©Jun Aoki & Associates – Photo courtesy: DaiciAno

3. Stabilized Aluminum Foam (SAF)- Alusion

The recycled aluminum is turned into aluminum foam by stabilizing its molten form. Its density, porosity, and other properties can vary by regulating its physical properties during production. Mostly used in China, Alusion is currently used in small-scale projects like restaurants, retails, bars, offices, etc. What makes it interesting is its aesthetic quality of how it illuminates the surface on both the ends of the buildings.

We can see its implementation in Alienware retail stores, restaurants and bars in China, and CaixaForum Sevilla, Earthcom Headquarters, and Evangelical temple in Terrassa.

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Evangelical temple in Terrassa ©
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Restaurant ©
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Restaurant ©
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EarthCam HQ ©

4. Shipping Container

The IT Factory Unit in Kharkiv displays a modern, elegant way of using the shipping containers as a building unit. We have usually seen these containers used as a mobile home, etc. but here we can see how one can bring out aesthetics in it using their creative mindset.

The zoning is done vertically and horizontally in two levels to build up the meeting spaces, conference rooms, and coworking spaces with lounge areas, café, etc. The glass sidewalls of the container provide a view of the educational activity in the school and the coworking lounge area. 

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Club offices ©
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Aerial view ©
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Lounge area ©
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Coworking space ©
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Cafe ©

5. Concrete brick

Memorial Hall of Israel’s Fallen soldiers sits atop Mount Herzl in Jerusalem, Israel. The project led by Kimmel Eshkolot transforms the topography silently on the outside, whereas the light echoes through the brick funnel. Each brick speaks of an engraved name of a soldier in the entirety of 23,000 bricks. 

The bricks with steel cores were nailed together at pre-cut joints to bring life to this dominating, open-to-sky structure. Light fills in the void to pay tribute to the fallen soldiers. The smooth finished concrete complements the empathetic intention of the architect to form a whirl of emotions via the hovering sculpture.

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The light funnel ©
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Light play ©
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Spaces ©
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Spaces ©

6. Clay brick

Regionalism is a prominent factor in the field of sustainability. The government facility designed in the third-largest grain distributor state of India revives the relationship between the people and the authority. 

The façade screen uses three different colors of clay bricks to create Ikat patterns of Odisha’s handlooms to show geographical diversity. The architect looked sensitively into the recreation of a green building concept by merging it with the skills of a hundred local craftspersons. This climate-responsive building stands proudly as a cultural identity of Odisha, India, painting agricultural folktales and mythologies through materials.

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Krushi Bhawan by Studio Lotus ©
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Brick detail ©
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Interior spaces ©
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The nighttime view ©
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The nighttime view ©

7. Stone

The Grupo Arca’s showroom and cultural center in Guadalajara, Mexico, spread out a magnificent exemplary work of art in the showcase of materials. Designed by Esrawe Studio, this showroom deifies the purpose of its being. 

“The character of the quarry is defined by the material. The monolithic expression and the monumental scale of it make it a one of a kind experience.” 

‎–‎Esrawe Studio

The building reveals itself following the concept of a quarry through sleek mysterious openings for the visitors. The extraction of a chunk of the monolithic façade of black concrete cladding unveils the ocean blue marble underneath. The open courtyard is of the travertine stone that gives the sense of an excavated area.

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The monolithic black facade ©
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Face cut ©
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Travertine courtyard ©
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Showroom ©

8. Bamboo

If we had a name for the perfect building material, it would be bamboo: easy to cultivate, the tensile strength of steel, compressive strength better than brick or concrete, and whatnot. Bamboo has now advanced to the level of construction in suspension bridges, restaurants, resorts, teahouses, etc. 

Many distinguished projects have created wonders using bamboo, for example, the Bamboo Courtyard Teahouse in China, KontumIndochine Café in Vietnam, etc. However, it would be unfair to mention the famous Sharma Springs in Bali, Indonesia. The level of intricacy and heart put into every single detail is admirably breathtaking.

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The Sharma Springs by IBUKU ©
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IThe bridge ©
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The door ©
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Living area ©

9. Glass

Guilin Wanda Cultural Tourism Exhibition Center thrives in maintaining the cultural, poetic, and contextual identity of the location. Constructing the concept on the depth and psychological effect of the Guilin mountains, materiality comes into focus. 

The overlapping, gradation, and glazing of the glass facade and glass ribs, beautifully imitate the view of Guilin mountains through reflection, refraction, and transmission. 

The superimposition of glass depicts the ‘distant view,’ the ‘medium view,’ and the ‘near view.’ Variation in light on a sunny, cloudy, or rainy day, generates a dramatic effect. Also, the reflection in the water blurs out the sharp detail to pay respect to the context.

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The glass façade ©
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Fall & rise of glass ribs ©
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Light effect at night ©

10. Mud

Located in Dandaji village in Niger, theHikma Religious and secular complex reimagined as a library contains religious and scientific catalogs. Using the adobe-enhancing additives and upgraded techniques to prevent erosion, the design is a manifesto of the imagination of what can be sculpted out of the ordinary. The new block incorporates the blend of old traditional practices and modern strategies.

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Entrance view ©
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Façade ©
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Breezeway ©
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Structure detail ©

11. Steel

Steel is the core material used in the construction of almost every building we see today. But it is a challenge to beautify an industrial material like steel in design. Linxia Grand theater weaves a seamless structure of steel in symmetrical geometry combining the shell structure, curtain wall texture and structure, to reduce cost and increase design quality at the same time. 

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Linxia Grand Theatre ©
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Aerial view ©
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Interior structure detail ©
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Steel crochet ©
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Night-time view ©

12. Glassfibre reinforced concrete

Flexibility in creative thinking has been made possible by the integration of prefabricated smart materials and assembled on site. Leading firms like Zaha Hadid Architects, OMA, Foster + Partners, etc. are using GFRC in their influential projects.

Zaha Hadid’s Messner Mountain Museum Corones echoes its glory from 2275 meters above sea-level. The exterior cladding complementing the limestone sanctuary and the interior with a darker tone to show the coloration of anthracite holds the structure firmly into place.

Similarly, Steve Chilton will be using GFRC for his new project ‘Puzzle ball theater’ in China that will set a new record in the charts. Trapezoidal and rhombus-shaped panels using generative design will help in creating an interlocking façade of the ball theater.

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Messner Mountain Museum Corones ©
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Mountain envelope ©
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Material detail ©www.
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Puzzle ball theater ©
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Entrance ©

13. Wood

Inspired by Gaudi and Frank Gehry, Michael Carmichael designed the wave house that mimics the Pacific Ocean’s waves. The architect did not shy away from using materials to create a unique design for the client. From Brazilian Ipe wood on the deck, Cedarwood for shingles, Oak slat board for furniture, cabinets, fridge, sea-horse fossils in tiles, etc. 

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Cedar Shingles ©
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Wave House entrance ©
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Oak Slat board detailing ©
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Connection ©
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Brazilian ipe wood deck ©
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Beachside view ©

14. Rammed earth

Breaking the stereotype in the capital of Pakistan, Arcop develops a sustainable Campus of Telenor network company. Tracing its root back to stepped wells and diversity of soil in Punjab, rammed earth is used to create a soft, colorful façade. The use of rammed earth helped block out heat and form large, thick openings that also capture photogenic and sculptural views.

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345 Telenor Campus ©
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Night-time courtyard ©

15. Plastic (inflated shell)

Located in the 21st Harbin ICE& SNOW WORLD park, the ice restaurant casts a perfect example of inspiring us that the only limit to our imagination is not the material but our perspective. The restaurant works as an ice hot-pot while using innovative technology like pykrete spraying and joint exhaust ribs. The shell structure has proven to withstand the extreme temperature of more than 0°C keeping the artistic spatial quality intact.

Ice Restaurant ©
Interior detail ©
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Social activity ©
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Exterior ©

With an ambitious spirit to explore the world, Neha has embarked upon building her professional journey beginning from UAE, to Egypt, to what future holds next; to uncover the “extraordinary” in the places we see as ordinary keeping one eye ahead of the time and deeper into how architecture influences socio-culture, norms and behavior.