Transparency in the Building Industry - Nutrition Labels for Building Materials

© 2012 Perkins + Will

In material safety article for the New York Times, Fred A. Bernstein conducts an interview with architect Peter Syrett and interior designer Chris Youseff of Perkins + Will that highlights their endeavor to create a database of common building materials and the potential dangers associated with their composition. The database, simply and appropriately referred to as Transparency Lists, is a resource of precautionary measures which breaks down into four categories: Precautionary List, Asthma Triggers + Asthmagens, Flame Retardants, and News, Media + Additional Research.

Read on for more after the break.

Bernstein writes that the idea for the database arose when Syrett and Youseff were designing a cancer center in Brooklyn while still working under Guenther 5 Architects. In choosing the materials that included flooring, lumber, wiring and pipes, the pair were very critical of the quality of these materials, trying to choose those that carried the least amount of risk: “free of known or suspected carcinogens”.  A lot of research was necessary on their part because no such clear and concise database existed. In compiling research on their own, they discovered the value of such a database, and fortunately with the backing of Perkins + Will, which acquired Guenther 5 Architects, they were able to develop the database further.

© 2012 Perkins + Will

It turns out that “no material is pristine these days”, warns Youseff in the interview. “The industrial process” invariably transforms the material from its natural form into something that can take longer wear, resist corrosion or decay and ward off insects. But giving products and materials a longer lifespan falls short of making them safer for us. Syrett and Youseff’s words of advice are this: “Make conservative choices ‘What’s it made of?’ – which is precisely what their database is designed to help with.

The database gives a thorough breakdown of each material listed. Under Precautionary List, you can find common dangerous substances alphabetized and categorized. The site gives you the option of searching by each substance, by category, its health effects or by building divisions and sections. Clicking on a substance will lead you to a page that gives a summary of its health effects, where it is most commonly found, how it is categorized, its origins, what building divisions it shows up in, a general reference via the EPA, and most importantly: Alternative Materials.

© 2012 Perkins + Will

This exhaustive guide is thorough, but concise, delivering important information that can be understood by architects and designers, and non-professionals looking for advice on renovations in their homes. The database was launched in November 2011. It is based off of the commitment to build healthy buildings. It almost goes without saying – if what we consume must have a nutrition label, then the spaces we inhabit and the materials we are exposed to should as well.

via NY Times, “To Help Make Sure Your Home Is Healthy, an Ingredients List” by Fred A. Bernstein, Feb. 1, 2012

About this author
Cite: Irina Vinnitskaya. "Transparency in the Building Industry - Nutrition Labels for Building Materials" 13 Feb 2012. ArchDaily. Accessed . <> ISSN 0719-8884

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