Use of Building Materials
140 Sustainable Environments
No study of sustainable residential space can exclude environmentally responsible
materials.  e projects in “Use of Building Materials” are signifi cant not because they
incorporate as many sustainable materials as possible, but for how they experiment
with new composites or introduce ingenious applications for more common materials.
Many of the recycled elements are not even specifi able manufactured products. All
these works are attentive to the sourcing of construction materials, similar in intent
to the locally sourced products of the “Bioregionalism” projects, but emphasizing the
issues of embodied energy and cost. Also, all the architects chose materials with low
VOC levels and minimal or no off -gassing to provide a cleaner, nontoxic living space
inside and to prevent contamination of the soil and water outside. New and used form
the two basic divisions here: “Elemental and Experimental Materials” presents recently
developed materials as well as reinterpretations of more traditional or rudimentary
ones, while “Salvaged and Recycled Materials” examines how architects integrate used
materials and entire post-consumer objects into a living environment, creating a sort
of architectural bricolage.
A staple of vernacular construction, elemental materials like straw and bamboo
are making a reappearance in architect-designed sustainable homes, often in a whole,
minimally processed form, as demonstrated in the Great (Bamboo) Wall and the
Straw House. Applicable wherever the plant may be cultivated, they are not limited to
traditional methods of construction. Renewable materials like these are popular since
they may be easily regrown and are consequently not endangered as a resource.  e
use of wood, however, brings with it a necessary caution: the awareness of its produc-
tion source. Standards for the responsible sourcing of wood products, such as that
set by the Forest Stewardship Council in the United States, assure that certifi ed wood
excludes endangered or genetically modifi ed species and wood originating from tree
farms or plantations that have replaced natural forests—a process that destroys the
natural ecosystems within.
Just as renewability has become a prerequisite for many architects in specifying
construction materials, the embodied energy of materials has emerged as another fac-
tor intrinsic to sustainability. Embodied energy is the total sum of energy associated
with the life cycle of a material, from the extraction of raw material, through the pro-
cessing, manufacturing, transport, use, and disposal of the fi nished product. Although
metal has a higher embodied energy due to its extensive manufacturing procedures,
steel’s structural strength, durability, and reusability make it a natural choice for many
projects. In the homes here that employ metal as a primary material—the Turbulence
House and the Annie Street and Slavin-Arnholz Residences—these factors plus its low
maintenance counterbalance the greater embodied energy. For the fi rst two projects,
the steel structure is also a precision material that can be assembled from a kit of parts
with specifi c quantities and dimensions, allowing for greater effi ciency and substan-
tially reducing waste.

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