Six Essential Materials & The Architects That Love Them

Six Essential Materials & The Architects That Love Them

In case you missed it, we’re re-publishing this popular post for your material pleasure. Enjoy!

To celebrate the recent launch of our US product catalog, ArchDaily Materials, we've coupled six iconic architects with what we deem to be their favourite or most frequently used material. From Oscar Neimeyer's sinuous use of concrete to Kengo Kuma's innovative use of wood, which materials define some of the world's best known architects?

Oscar Neimeyer + Concrete

Niemeyer Center, Spain. Image © Iñigo Bujedo-Aguirre
Matarazzo Pavilion. Image © Flickr User: ArtExplorer

Although you could argue that many iconic architects have had a love affair with concrete, Oscar Neimeyer's understanding of concrete's aesthetic and potential for structural plasticity - on display in works as distinct as the Cathedral of Brasília or the UN Headquarters in New York - is arguably unrivaled. Niemeyer and Lúcio Costa first employed the material as a potent symbol for modernity in Brazil's new capital, Brasília, in 1956. Concrete took pride of place as their material of choice, and the vast expanses of shimmering, smooth white concrete surfaces defined the city's civic heart as well as much of Brazilian Modernism. With concrete, Neimeyer left a built legacy more significant than most architects of his (or any) generation.

You can read about Neimeyer's complete works on ArchDaily and read an interview with him here.

Alvar Aalto + Brick

Muuratsalo Experimental House. Image © Nico Saieh
Jyvaskyla University. Image © Nico Saieh

As a designer, sculptor and painter, Alvar Aalto's portfolio transcends that of the typical architect. Designing the furnishings inside his buildings down to the glassware and lamps, Aalto's legacy is built around a holistic understanding of design, from the smallest detail to the largest component. Among his numerous projects, brick features heavily. From an experimental house in Muuratsalo to the monolithic façades at Jyvaskyla University, he both angled bricks and curved them, always treating his material with his characteristic attention to detail.

Zaha Hadid + Composite Fibres

Heydar Aliyev Center. Image © Iwan Baan
Serpentine Sackler Gallery. Image © Luke Hayes

Zaha Hadid's practice is at the forefront of using new materials to express the complex geometries they create through parametric design. Although they are famed for making concrete appear weightless, many of their building's skins are clad in different types of composite fibres. The Heydar Aliyev Center in Baku, for example, uses Glass Fibre Reinforced Polyester (GFRP) to create an almost seamless flowing exterior. Their recent extension to the Serpentine Sackler Gallery in London uses much the same technique, with their experimental materiality even extending into the design of superyachts.

Frank Gehry + Metals

Cleveland Clinic Lou Ruvo Center for Brain Health. Image © Matthew Carbone
Walt Disney Concert Hall. Image © Philipp Rümmele

Frank Gehry, perhaps most famous for his titanium clad gallery in Bilbao, has also employed metal cladding to great effect on a number of other buildings. Ranging from the stainless steel clad Walt Disney Concert Hall in LA to the Cleveland Clinic Lou Ruvo Center for Brain Health in Las Vegas, shining, silver metal has often wrapped around his fluid, distorted forms and made a bold statement on the city skyline.

You can read an interview with Gehry here.

Kengo Kuma + Wood

GC Prostho Museum Research Center. Image © Daici Ano
Starbucks. Image © Masao Nishikawa

Japanese practice Kengo Kuma + Associates have created some of the world's most striking wooden buildings in recent years. The Cité des Arts et de la Culture in France is an example of how a wooden façade can transform internal spaces - a theme which is also evident in their GC Prostho Museum Research Center in Japan. Kuma's skill at making heavy, dense materials appear soft and light is perhaps unrivaled in the profession.

SANAA + Glass

New Art Museum. Image © Dean Kaufman

SANAA, also based in Japan, are known for expertly crafting glass around translucent volumetric spaces. All sense of weight and gravity falls away from their design for the Louvre Lens, which uses mirrors and hidden detailing to turn glass into the only visible material. In a similar vein, the New Art Museum in New York City employs a clever combination of glass, anodised aluminium mesh and white painted walls to make the building shimmer in a semi-transparent way.

If you're looking for some more material inspiration, check out our new US product catalog ArchDaily Materials.

About this author
Cite: James Taylor-Foster. "Six Essential Materials & The Architects That Love Them" 05 Mar 2014. ArchDaily. Accessed . <> ISSN 0719-8884

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