Selecting the Right Material

Selecting the Right material seems like a massively complex task when seen by an onlooker, but it is only second nature to a designer during technical design. With time and experience, designers develop an in-depth understanding of the resources and the range of availability. Most designers have a preconception towards certain materials which they work with, often because they grew up with them. This preconception sometimes binds the designer to the past leading them to turn a blindside to its disadvantages. Designers need to break past these to achieve an effective solution.

Nowadays, thanks to a cheap form of transport and technological advances, a variety of materials are available at our disposal. This vast choice also presents its consequences. A close eye is needed to the sustainability of the transport, which tends to put local production companies out of business, as a result of the cheap import.

For instance, a brick previously was only available when the clay is shaped and fired up. Even in the current state of constant advancement, this concept hasn’t been affected. But the choices of any form and source have increased, accompanied by added responsibility and accountability for the option.

The process of selecting materials is as much about acknowledging this situation, as it is with working with an existing palette of information. It is an exploration that depends on the depth of knowledge and diverse methods in which a material is assessed and used.

  • Scientific properties – This decides its relation with other materials, its durability and behaviour in fire
  • Structural properties – Product limitations
  • Durability – Maintenance cost 
  • Behaviour in use – Health and safety issues
  • All of the above – will affect the cost assessment includes the purely economic supply cost plus the potential for recycling and embodied energy.

Appearance and the aesthetic value are a property overlooked form the list because it is subjective. A fake appearance in some circumstances is easy to create. A concrete wall can be cladded with tile having a look and feel of exposed brick, so the wall looks constructed of bricks.

Material Testing;

New materials require a learning and propagating campaign and a series of evaluations of all the factors outlined above. These products are manufactured after extensive research and development. The manufacturers and their staff is trained to propagate them and often provide on-site trials and demos. Designers should consider these products with care as they will be held responsible for the material’s performance to their clients. It is best to check if these products have gained certification vouching for their safety and performance.

Rammed Earth;

The approach of using traditional material in new situations, Assessment to gain confidence over this method is essential in response to this new scenario. To illustrate upon this approach would be of rammed earth or compressed earth blocks used for walls. The evaluation for this wall will include its behaviour to changing weather and its load-bearing capacity. It is a hit and trial process, which when successful is immensely rewarding with a previously unknown property is unravelled. 

The designer needs to have clear design making skill, along with the knowledge that informs this design. This quality only comes with time and experience through varied kind of projects.

Material Efficiency is the primary goal to produce optimum solutions. Most of the time efficiency is synonymous with economic efficiency, which is to produce the best possible maximum output for the least financial cost. This aim has driven vast construction advancements and the world as we see today.

The amount of work put in at the site for the materials could reduce its environmental impact. The maximum use of modular materials is considerably economical. Labour intensive materials aren’t very economical but widely used in underdeveloped countries where labour is cheaper than energy. Materials choice thus depends on workability and safety. Hence, efficiency is an analysis of both human cost and financial costs.

The design team’s response depends on their experience to make up for the shortfalls with a vigorous information gathering process. The initial information is collected from the natural inquisitiveness and intuitiveness of the designer. The designer should also possess the ability to carry out well-informed research. These skills are learnt with time and valued attribute. The designer can further gather detailed information from the manufacturers. They would persuade the usage of their products, seldom the product catalogues are deceiving, for instances, their product might not have environmental advantages as they claim. Lastly, Scientific information is more experimental than practical. The designers are advised to look for the certifications the material has gained. It is a tool to reduce risks and helps a better interpretation of real-world scenarios. 

In conclusion, while selecting any material, the designer should get well-versed with every aspect of it. Leave no stone unturned.

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