Materiality may be the essential difference between design and architecture. It represents the actualization of an idea verses the foam core and bass wood models of our education.
The same design (massing, form, architectonics) produces widely varied results when executed in different materials. We all realize this everyday as envisioned materials are assaulted by "value engineering". Imagine Bilbao in EFIS, or Falling Water in corrugated metal.
In thinking about materiality, it is not always about discovering new materials or unusual uses for standard materials, sometimes there is innovation in using old materials exactly as they were meant to be.
A very small addition/remodel project was completed in a post WW I area of the city with neat little homes with front porches, passing pedestrians, mature trees, sidewalks separated from the street by tree lawns, and shaded orthogonal streets: the very picture of "new urbanism." This neighborhood is now close-in with an easy arterial street commute to downtown, and is just beginning the transition and gentrification that has devoured similar neighborhoods surrounding the urban core.
Denver is in the midst of rampant Infill Sprawl. Infill Sprawl is the demise of older, established, close-in neighborhoods a house at a time. Homes are scraped and massive (mostly suburban modeled) houses consume the land, the mature trees, the air, the sunshine, and the very context, and history of the existing fabric, without so much as a contribution to increased density that might counter suburban sprawl. (But, I digress to a subject for another article.)
Although we nearly tripled the area of the home, this addition was designed to complement the scale and character of the neighborhood, and the neighborhood has embraced this endeavor with great enthusiasm. Even a total stranger from a neighborhood already lost to Infill Sprawl stopped his car in the middle of the street to approach the homeowners and congratulate them on their sensitive addition.
And what has made the difference? MATERIALITY. The new addition is clad in brick salvaged from the demolished garage and porch with the original decorative belt pattern carried into the new masonry work. This was in no way an attempt at historic preservation, but was instead a sensitivity to context and a sense of place. The homeowners were no old curmudgeons fighting change, but instead a young couple responding to their new neighborhood. Thanks to the dedication of a great client (he personally salvaged and cleaned every brick - twice) and the craftsmanship and sensitivity of a skilled mason (our second try), the project has been heralded as an example to emulate in the transition of this neighborhood. Had the same design been executed in something like EFIS (the material of choice for sprawl of all sorts), even this small addition would have been obvious, obtrusive, and out of place.
Time will tell, but there may be hope that what is often accepted by the public is not necessarily what they would prefer, but only what is made available to them. Only when options are presented can real choices be made.