However, it wasn’t until recently when a former colleague of mine left architecture to join Windsor Fiberglass in North Carolina that I truly re-engaged the use of composites in architecture. Having an architect on the manufacturing side of the process helps enormously as he understands the challenges associated with both the industry’s regulations and material bias.
As an architecture professor, what are you teaching your students about composites? How are you using your knowledge to engage them?
I am teaching my students to embrace the use of composites as an alternative way of thinking about building design. Many of the best practices in architecture are built upon technologies that are centuries old and reinforce the notion that there are discrete systems in response to each part of a building – the structure is the support, cladding is the enclosure, insulation is thermal barrier and so on. So within the same material space, systems are layered heterogeneously to accomplish all these goals. I use composites to challenge this prevailing thought and ask my students to conceive of ways in which a different efficiency might be achieved if these systems are integrated into a single material matrix. This is by no means totally novel, in the sense that reinforced concrete does this as well, but modern composites have the ability to bring other traits to the discussion as well – lightness, translucency, etc.
Are the next generation of architects more open to composites than more seasoned architects?
The short answer is no. While the next generation of architects is more likely to look for new solutions to the architectural problem, the education of composites as an architectural material really only exists in most curricula as reinforced concrete. That being said, there is more of a groundswell developing for the use of composites in architecture – primarily using carbon fiber for its structural advantages. I really see the potential of leveraging this as more and more research is emerging that equates building mass to energy waste; the more a building weighs, the more resources are needed to ensure stability.