Material Technology (part I): Introduction to Materials

Materials, material finishes, terms that do not come across as strange or unheard of, even to non-architects or interior designers as they are part of everyone’s everyday lives. Materials come in all shapes and sizes with vastly varying characteristics and chemical properties of which suitability is determined by different needs and type of building by the climate and also durability (Benitez, 2011). Besides the obvious factor of aesthetics, material selection should be considered carefully depending on the physical and chemical properties such as the fire, water and heat resistance, hardness, smoothness, etc.

From earth walls to reinforced concrete, and later self healing materials, the speed of advancements is ever accelerating. To understand the progression of material technology, it is necessary to study its humble beginnings. In contrast to the general sleek and clean style of modern architecture of which commonly uses materials that include concrete, steel and glass, primitive or old architecture often use natural local materials as they are, such as earth, straw or stone (Benitez, 2011). From primitive times or earlier years of human development, different examples of the human exploration of materials for shelter-building affected by the necessities for their climate can be seen at independent locations such as adobe bricks used in the ancient Indus Valley and rubble stone masonry used in the ancient Rome.

In a newspaper article, Fitch and Branch (n.d) stated that even being judged under the light of the modern world, architecture of the ancient world reveals a high level of performance that reflects a precise and detailed understanding of local climate conditions and properties of building materials that are available locally. With this knowledge, many ancient civilisations are able to build functional and efficient spaces independently with only materials mixed up from raw materials that can be found locally and processed easily. The design and material selection seem to work well as the occupants are able to occupy the space comfortably within the shelters that they have made even without fancy technologically advanced materials. So, if existing materials from the past are already good enough, is material technology advancement even necessary?


Adam, J.P. (1989), Roman Building: Materials and Techniques, London: Routledge.

Benitez, C.P. (2001), Architecture and Materials, Barcelona, Spain: LOFT Publications, p. 6.

Fitch, J.M. and Branch, D.P. (n.d), ‘Primitive Architecture and Climate’, p.134-144.

Image sources:

Featured image: Lerkenfeldt, H. (n.d), STILLSTARS, [online], available at:


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