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Material Assemblies

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.

Assemblies makes visible the performance and adaptability of building systems for each architectural precedent, revealing how the organization, integration, and detailed assembly of systems protects and leverages the capacity of the primary structure. Comparing the integration of systems in these four built examples illustrates how architects make performance-based decisions to achieve durable and sustainable architecture.


Durable Boston

Take a further look into Boston buildings that represent each of the four material types—concrete, steel, masonry, and timber.

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PAIGE 5 Durable EDIT

Mass Timber

Mass Timber is a bench in the shape of a section of the floor construction of the Wood Innovation and Design Centre by Michael Green Architecture, turned upside down.

Explore Mass Timber here


The wood structure of the Wood Innovation and Design Centre by Michael Green Architecture sequesters more carbon dioxide while trees are growing than is generated manufacturing the structural components. This building demonstrates a mass timber building can safely exceed the height building codes allow for lightweight, combustible construction. Durability is considered in the assembly details that use the fire-resistant timber structure to protect the steel connections, the adaptable assembly of floors for accessible systems integration, and the charring of the naturally-rot resistant cladding for improved insect and moisture resistance.

This building is explored further in Building Biographies: Wood Innovation and Design Centre.


Porotherm is a terracotta block engineered by Wienerberger AG for both structural and thermal use, which makes up the exterior wall of Haus 2226 by Baumschlager Eberle Architekten.

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The deceptively simple masonry walls of Haus 2226 by Baumschlager Eberle Architekten do far more than support the building. The air cavities in the blocks insulate, resisting heat moving in or out, while the thermal mass of the terracotta stores and releases heat slowly. Together with the roof and windows, these walls keep the interior temperatures between 22 and 26 degrees Celsius (72 and 79 degrees Fahrenheit) all year without heating and air conditioning. The thick wall shades the windows from the sun in the summer but admits it in winter. An operable wood panel on the windows opens automatically, or manually by users, to let fresh air in. The lime plaster finish inside and out seals against wind and rain, allows water vapor to evaporate, and the light color reflects and diffuses daylight throughout the space.

This building is explored further in Building Biographies: Haus 2226.


In the US Courthouse by Thomas Phifer and Partners, the connections between the steel columns and beams are welded to make a rigid moment frame around the perimeter. The moment frame can resist sideways or lateral forces from an earthquake, and the structure is made very strong so even if one column breaks, the others around it will support the weight that was carried by it. A screen of aluminum fins wraps the exterior glass curtain wall, with unique patterns on the north, east, south, and west sides to allow daylighting while preventing overheating by the sun.

This building is explored further in Building Biographies: United States District Courthouse.


The solid concrete frame of the Research Center ICTA-ICP contrasts sharply with the temporary feeling of plywood walls and the transparency of the polycarbonate exterior. In addition to structure, the concrete serves as a thermal mass for interior comfort that is heated or cooled by exchanging heat with the earth. The structural pattern creates a series of atria for daylighting and ventilation. The “bioclimatic skin” automatically responds to the exterior and interior conditions, opening panels to allow natural ventilation, closing them for insulation, and positioning louvers in response to the sun.

This building is explored further in Building Biographies: Research Center ICTA-ICP.

Concrete in Axon


Opening reception attendees look on at the floor to ceiling axon of the Research Center ICTA-ICP.

Photo: Mic L. Angelo