How can design re-define materiality for a more sustainable and humane built environment?
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How can design re-define materiality for a more sustainable, community-centered and humane built environment?

How can design re-define materiality for a more sustainable and humane built environment?
By Redazione The Plan -

The call for submissions for the themed issue “The Good Material” of The Plan Journal (TPJ) states:

With the world facing increasing environmental challenges amidst an unprecedented public health crisis and rising social inequalities and racial tensions, the call for a healthier and more sustainable physical environment is becoming an unavoidable imperative. The design fields have a responsibility and a unique opportunity to answer this call, and thus the need for a new materiality is emerging with urgency. We need more sustainable materials, more efficient and lasting construction systems, less waste, smarter recycling processes, community driven experimentation, research and innovation for a new tectonics capable to leverage our collective design intelligence across disciplines, communities and cultures.

The TPJ seeks proposals to explore and disseminate relevant research and experimental practice for a new materiality and tectonics on which architecture, design and urbanism can rely to shape a more sustainable, just, humane and beautiful world.

Maurizio Sabini, Editor-in-Chief of The Plan Journal

Earth construction is a common example of an age-old residential construction technology that is, unfortunately, no longer permissible under most building codes. Yet, the method is inexpensive and more than adequate (structurally and climatically) – especially when you consider the unmet needs of hundreds of millions of people. Photo by © Andreas Deffner.


The Plan Journal looks at “human time as a resource: twelve strategies for re-thinking urban materiality”

We are honored to begin The Good Material issue with a position paper by renowned architect and researcher Anupama Kundoo. Among her thought-provoking reflections, she asks: “Why have the purported gains from technological advancement not resulted in housing that is more broadly accessible”? In her position paper, titled “Human Time as a Resource: Twelve Strategies for Re-thinking Urban Materiality,” Kundoo considers this question as well as “What should we do about the conflict between our desire to improve living conditions for all of humanity versus the unsustainable trends in resource consumption? And what of the largest losses of all – our skills, our capacity to think, and our sense of purpose and belonging”? In her paper, Kundoo proposes a mindful approach and twelve strategies that “take the time to think.”

>> We encourage you to browse The Plan Journal and explore abstracts and articles in TPJ Volume 6/2021 – Issue 2:  beginning to post on The Good Material for yourself.


Kundoo explains:

Where once the stage was constructed by everyone, the stage today is almost exclusively constructed by professionals, virtually all of whom specialize in one trade or another. The growing, economically motivated separation between professional builders on the one hand, and users of the built environment on the other, is socially and environmentally destabilizing.

1. Material Is Best Treated as a Local Matter

The author, Anupama Kundoo asks us to “think of how often fieldstone at a site is dug out and discarded only to make way for purchased building materials with similar properties!”

Samskara: Made in India (New Delhi, 2017) was an exhibition of high-end, hand-crafted contemporary products. Granite from a local quarry was used to emphasize local stone-cutters’ craftsmanship – making thick white slabs look like delicate flying ribbons. The ribbons served both as the exhibition hall floor and as the stage for the products. Between the ribbons, 5.08 cm [2 in.] to 7.62 cm [3 in.] streaks of crushed darker granite provided visual relief. Their more important (and unnoticed) role was to absorb the inevitable dimensional variances between working drawings and the actual site. Photo by © Vimal Bhojraj.

2. Known Materials and Technologies Have Uses We Have Yet to Discover. Experiment Boldly
3. Old Can Be Gold
4. Design So Anyone Can Build
5. Build So Everyone Can Grow

Kundoo suggests that “by integrating ‘participatory construction’ with local materials and craftsmanship one can reverse regional economic declines and gain a structural cost advantage over wasteful mechanized solutions.”

“Volontariat Homes for Homeless Children” (Tuttipakkam, India, 2008) is a 500 m2 [5,382 sq. ft.] cluster of whimsical dwellings offering refuge to homeless children of all ages. The cluster of catenary domes made of sun-dried earth bricks with earth mortar were fired in situ to stabilize them into water resistant ceramic structures. Most of the budget went into labor with very little costs attributed to materials. Photo by © Javier Callejas. 

6. Waste Less Embodied Energy
7. Trash Is Unimagined Treasure
8. (Do The Math and You Will See That) Good Enough Is Perfect
9. Think to Learn with Your Hands

We agree with the author that, “for architects and architects-in-training there is no better way to learn – to navigate the gap between the elegance of theory and the rough reality of the world – than to work in the field and get one’s hands dirty.”

Photo by © Marta Sanvicente | Watch tower at Auroville’s Botanical Garden (2006) built by students from the AA School of Architecture using rope-tied round wood construction and coconut thatch. Other examples include: 
• “Liquid Wall” backdrop constructed at a public space in Mexico City using discarded tetrapack containers refilled with sand or water;
• “Wall House” (2012) reconstructed in full scale at the Venice Architecture Biennale by students from the University of Queensland, Brisbane (Australia) and from the IUAV School of Architecture in Venice (Italy).

10. Avail of the Human Scale
11. Develop What Is Plentiful and It Will Extend What Is Finite
12. Influence to amplify


Kundoo elaborates:

Cities are unique organisms that tend to promote and preclude specific development options. The form, scale, and layout of urban infrastructure defines the reasonable range of possibilities for design strategies at individual sites within the city. Influencing the core decisions, then, is a way to amplify the adoption of design strategies that can make a difference.

 “Line of Goodwill” (Auroville, current) is a high-rise mixed-use project designed for 8,000 inhabitants. It is one of several dense conglomerations envisioned by Roger Anger in a larger city plan for Auroville. Set in the context of a car-free future city in which there is no private ownership of land, the project offers high-density collective living consisting of co-housing clusters with different experimental sharing structures. It rethinks the urban tower (where the human scale is otherwise lost after 8 stories) by introducing several expansive horizontal walkways and public use layers. The gently descending cluster of buildings stretches over 800 m [2,624 ft. 8 in.], resembling a hill that starts at the entrance to the city and culminates at the edge of the lake at the City Centre. The project features integrated water and wastewater systems, renewable energy sources, in-structure urban farming, and smart mobility. © Anupama Kundoo Architects.


Kundoo ponders:

Of course, we can achieve big things by adopting small strategies and spreading awareness of their success. But even bigger successes await those of us willing to ask questions and take on problems and paradigms that lie beyond our immediate concerns. How can we expand human potential so that our economic assumption shifts from scarcity to abundance? How can we encourage economic systems that reduce the wasteful consumption of finite natural resources? How do we go about constructing an economy that sees unused time as the greatest waste of all?


About the author


Anupama Kundoo is a professor at FH Potsdam and a recent recipient of the Jencks Foundation, RIBA and the Charles Jencks Award. She is also the principal of Anupama Kundoo Architects. E-mail: anupama.kundoo (at)

>> To learn more, read this article in TPJ  Volume 6/2021 - Issue 2.


Why support + read TPJ?

The Plan Journal is intended to disseminate and promote innovative, thought-provoking, and relevant research, studies, and criticism related to architecture and urbanism. The journal grew out of an awareness that academia is all too often engaged in research that’s disconnected from the real-world challenges that face different professions, and that research is only possible for a small number of professional organizations, and, even then, with limited platforms for its dissemination. The overarching aim of TPJ is therefore to enrich the dialogue between researchers and professionals so as to foster both pertinent new knowledge and intellectually driven modes of practice.

How does it work + why does it matter?

Prospective contributors are encouraged to submit proposals or complete manuscripts to the Editor-in-Chief. Subject to positive feedback, proposals can then be developed into complete manuscripts and submitted for review, using the dedicated portal on the TPJ website. 

After preliminary approval, manuscripts will be forwarded to suitably qualified people for commenting. TPJ is committed to following a rigorous double-blind peer review process using at least two reviewers. The Editor-in-Chief may also occasionally invite recognized academics, critics, or professionals (including members of the editorial board) to contribute to the journal without going through the peer review process, if warranted by the author’s reputation.

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