Skip to content

Durable: The Digital Collection

Explore Durable Materials

This exhibition uses concrete, steel, masonry, and timber to explore durability, sustainability, and architecture. The physical samples below each contain one kilogram of one of these widely used materials. Although they have the same mass, differences in density result in cubes of different sizes.

Explore the materials here

Durability may be the ultimate measure of sustainability in the built environment. Buildings that endure for generations while constantly adapting to ever-changing human needs sustain both human life, and the planet on which we build.

Concrete, steel, masonry, and timber—Durable uses four traditional architectural materials to illustrate the potential consequences of material choices made in the construction of buildings.

The exhibition is organized into three domains of durability—Material Ecologies, Material Assemblies, and Material Cultures. Built examples of a precedent building made from each material illustrate robust architecture that remains useful and valued despite the vicissitudes of time. See more on a built example of each materiel in Building Biographies.

Durable draws on the research project Future-Use Architecture: Design for Persistent Change awarded the 2017-2019 Latrobe Prize by the AIA College of Fellows. The prize recognizes the urgency of adaptive and regenerative buildings to shape and sustain a rapidly-evolving future.


Durable opening reception

Mic L. Angelo

Explore Material Ecologies

Material Ecologies maps the flows and life cycle impacts of four common structural materials: concrete, steel, masonry, and timber.

Explore Material Ecologies here

Material Ecologies

Architecture exists in a complex network of resource and energy flows: a material ecology. Throughout their life cycle, from conception to disassembly, buildings affect natural and cultural ecologies at regional and global scales. Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) methods can measure these material and energy flows inherent to the building. Long-lived buildings reduce the share of embodied resources and environmental impacts borne by each generation that inhabits them: making durability an imperative for sustainability.

Looking to explore Material Ecologies at home? Download the worksheet to build your own Octahedral Globe and Carbon Cube HERE.

Explore Material Assemblies

Comparing the integration of systems in these four built examples illustrates how architects make performance-based decisions to achieve durable and sustainable architecture.

Explore Material Assemblies here

Material Assemblies

Architecture is the assembly of distinct, yet interrelated systems to provide for human safety, use, comfort, and delight. The primary building systems–structure, enclosure, and energy systems–together form an integrated whole that responds to the forces of nature: gravity; wind; air pressure; sunlight; rain; temperature; and humidity. Durable architecture is not unchanging, and these systems must also respond to dynamic cultural forces and changing needs, tastes, and technologies over time.

Explore Material Cultures

Material Cultures describes the material and human qualities of the four precedents that inspire our devotion to them.

Explore Material Cultures here

Material Cultures

Beyond mere shelter, the material manifestation of buildings creates sensory experiences of light, temperature, smell, texture, and sound which accumulate in our memory. Similarly, architectural qualities of buildings like scale, proportion, sequence, and surprise reflect and record the collective values and ideals of the culture that produced them. Material cultures explores these reciprocal relationships between people and buildings.

Explore Building Biographies

Built examples of a precedent building made from each material illustrate robust architecture that remains useful and valued despite the vicissitudes of time. See more on a built example of each materials here.

Explore Building Biographies here

Building Biographies

Woven as episodes throughout the Durable exhibition, the data, materials and details of four buildings help make the argument for Durability through the comparative analysis of their life cycle impacts, cultural significance and tectonic expression. But these buildings have stories to tell on their own. This section describes each of these unique precedents in their contexts, presenting them as cohesive architectural manifestations of Sustainable Ecologies, Assemblies, and Cultures.

Go to the Secret Room

How was all of this figured out? Take a look at the calculations.

Enter here

The Secret Room

Building materials have strength to support themselves and others; to resist the natural forces of wind and water; and must enable the human activities that occur within the spaces they create. We cannot see these forces acting inside the building materials, but we have an abstract language for analyzing them using numbers instead of words.

Similarly, we can measure the real environmental impacts, such as global warming potential, using abstract numbers. Like a code, the structural and environmental calculations in this room have a form and beauty of their own.