The Reality of Materiality

            Prior to the Wicked Problems of Industrial Practice course, I had developed a limited interest in building materials that began to grow after conducting a related research investigation last semester. Because of the past few weeks, that interest is growing into a passion. The idea of focusing innovative building affordability on the sustainability of its resources is interesting. Wood seems to be a large part of the future of sustainable building design. Although this sounds like it would contribute to other wicked problems such as deforestation and subsequently habitat loss, the focus of wood construction research seems to be on increasing the efficiency of the material and utilizing more than one kind of wood in general construction. My home state of Arkansas, for example, has already hinted at a shift towards wood construction using pine due to its relative abundance in the state. Not only could the practice of utilizing local materials in construction decrease the cost of housing significantly, but it can lead to an increase in local jobs, economic expansion, and innovation building methods specific to the pine tree. As an aside, this method of construction also helps create a sense of identity for the state that is tied to its architecture. Specifically, the localization of materials could lower the cost of housing by decreasing the transportation and preservation costs, allowing profit margins to remain the same or slightly increase while providing the individual with a cheaper housing option that benefits their community. By supporting community business in the construction of community housing, a positive feedback loop is created, and a cycle begins that can benefit the greater region.

            We discussed a similar issue in a group. One of the things we agreed that we were concerned about in our field was the lack of local materials being used in construction. In order to address this, we developed a general problem statement that read “How might we create more sustainable architecture?” We then discussed the reality of using sustainable building practices to address the prevalence of environmental malpractice among large corporations. In spit balling solutions, we talked over education and affirmation of sustainable building design, then settled on a final solution. Building skins could be used on factories, and other buildings with high greenhouse gas emissions, to absorb and break down pollutants before they escape into the atmosphere. Interestingly, research has already been done on this topic; specifically, the use off algae to break down CO2 as it is released. However, there is still room for innovation within the discussion of organic building skins that may be incorporated to lower the carbon footprint of industrial areas around the world.

            The conversation of resource conservation is important in an industrialized world because everything we make comes from something that is on our planet or from the sun. In Chapter 1 of “The New Green History of the World”, Clive Pointing gives the anecdote of the fabled society that once inhabited Easter Island. They began as a small group looking for new areas in the Pacific Ocean, perhaps from Indonesia. They isolated themselves from the outside world after serval decades, making them an excellent case study for how a growing population can cope with limited resources. The 400 square miles of the island provided many of the resources the group of clans required including an abundance of wood, however, due to their own ambition, the resources of Easter Island began to dwindle until the group had completely died off. The group attempted to adapt by taking up new places of residence, but history proved their actions too late. Archeological evidence suggests that the people lacked knowledge on the availability of wood. From this, we can insinuate that they lacked an awareness for their own consumption. The world faces a similar dilemma in modern times with several key differences: awareness and an extensive knowledge of science. This puts the modern man several steps ahead of the Easter Island people. However, if we do not begin to act on our awareness at a faster rate using the skills we have developed over thousands of years of written history, the Earth may be doomed to the same fate as that of Easter Island.

About chrbrack

I am an Architectural Engineering student at Oklahoma State University.
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