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Provost's Imagine Fund for Arts and Humanities

Cities as Laboratories for Material Innovation: A Study of Two International Building Exhibitions in Germany

Architectural design and building construction practices are currently undergoing significant transformations based on the accelerating global consumption of resources, the widespread detrimental environmental effects of industrial-era processes, and the pivotal shift from a hydrocarbon- to a carbohydrate-based economy. Because buildings are responsible for the utilization of nearly half of all resources, this unprecedented set of circumstances demands the fundamental reconsideration of traditional material approaches in architecture.

Despite the importance of material innovation in advancing architecture, there is a notable dearth of scholarship concerning the opportunities provided by new materials and the ways in which new material applications can transform architectural practice and theory. My long-term objective is to develop a critical framework for assessing the technological development and environmental influence of materials in architecture, in order to reveal consequential trajectories as well as recognize and exploit future opportunities for innovation.

The International Building Exhibition (IBA) has played a fundamental role in shaping future visions of architecture and materials. Two important IBA events—the first held in Berlin in 1979-1987 and the second in Hamburg in 2006-2013 (with work continuing)—created influential global platforms for demonstrating innovative thinking in building technology and material culture. Time magazine called the Berlin IBA “the most ambitious showcase of world architecture in this generation.” I aim to visit both exhibition sites, which still exist as laboratories for material experimentation, in order to further my research on this topic for future publications.

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