“Material Research and Architecture. Progress through major demonstration projects”, in: architektur aktuell 6.2007, pp. 82–91
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Excerpt pp. 82–83:
The building industry is a problem child of research policy – and this applies equally to architects and planners as well as to contractors and producers. Although due its size (more than 10 % of the gross domestic product) the building economy has a significant economic importance, the level of expenditure of research is ridiculously low. The area in which things perhaps function best is the field of material research – the development of new materials and the improvement of existing ones. But here, too, there are many possibilities for innovations that could be utilised most effectively in the area of high density housing construction.
Building research then and now
The first section of Leonardo Benevolo's “History of the Architecture of the 19th and 20th Centuries” that deals with the creation and development of modern architecture starts with a chapter about the transformation of building technology during industrial revolution. Traditional materials such as stone, brick and timber were replaced by glass, concrete and steel. Traditional materials had been perfected – for example at the end of the 18th century timber brides with spans of up to 120 metres were built in Switzerland – and the new materials allowed previously unknown ways of building, one example being the first iron bridge at Coalbrookdale in England that is regularly quoted as an icon of modernism. Parallel to this new design methods developed, such as those taught by Jean-Nicolas-Louis Durand, a pupil of Boullée, at the new Ecole Polytechnique in Paris. To effectively teach the principles of architectural design during the period of study at the new school – that was considerably shorter than the training at the academy – Durand developed a typological system based on a grid that allowed the efficient design of buildings of any kind. Even though developments in the area of material science were more important and provided the basis for theory, the parallel line of development of design theory cannot be excluded from the history of early modernism. Natural and planning science, architectural and building technology research went hand in hand, and cooperation between architects, engineers and the building industry was the necessary precondition for new building methods.