Reinventing the Wheel – A Systems Theory of Materialism in Architecture

Theoretical Research (select passages)

Abstract: This thesis is an investigation into material aspects of architecture and is focused on two complimentary areas of inquiry. The first is a theoretical framework that proposes and outlines a specific model for material research and experimentation in architecture; the second is the application of this framework in the form of casting experiments that explore the potential of combining processed truck tire rubber with cement and concrete.

While the primary focus of this project is the consideration of material understanding and use within architecture, it is inherently saturated with notions of sustainability and efficiency. These stem from the choice of vulcanized truck tire rubber as the primary material under investigation in the work. This material provides a perspective from which the aforementioned model and experiments are developed, and is intentionally chosen for its overabundance as waste in the world. Understanding the global position of the material and its potential re-use within architectural design and fabrication are initial steps toward achieving a more integrated and accountable system of consumer tire production where waste is minimal and secondary use capability is paramount.

Position of the Architect: The role of the architect within material investigation and invention is somewhat precarious. Historical accounts present the architect as one who chooses and combines materials to create a design; by comparison there are far fewer accounts of architects actually inventing the materials with which their or other architects’ designs are built. The precariousness stems from the fact that architects are expected to have intimate knowledge of materials and material systems, but that their education does not necessarily prepare them to perform the role of a material inventor. Despite this, however, the intimate relationship that architects share with the material world affords a unique opportunity for investigation and experimentation.

Architects have the opportunity to conduct material experimentation on the basis of understanding and controlling the sensorial, social, ecological, and otherwise hidden potentials of materials, their combinations, and applications. In the Atlas of Novel Tectonics, Jesse Reiser states “material practice is the shift from asking ‘what does this mean?’ to ‘what does this do?’”By relation, material investigation and invention involves asking both questions simultaneously. The architect’s material research goes beyond autonomous models to pull even more information forward. If the spectrum of this information is seen as a system or network of material relationships, then the position of the architect is not one of mastering the system’s components, but rather, one of mastering the management of the system itself.



1.  Reiser, Jesse. Atlas of Novel Tectonics. New York: Princeton Architectural Press, 2006, 23.


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