Spring 2021

Appropriate Materials for the 21st Century

ARC 312C (00670)




Core Curriculum Requirements earned
Writing Flag
Visual & Performing Arts (VAPA) course


Web-based, asynchronous
Small group discussions via Zoom


Course Description

This course, designed for non-major undergraduates, is adapted from an upper-division and graduate-level UTSOA course taught in Summer 2019 and 2020. While both courses share the same title, as well as the central objective of cultivating material literacy, ARC 312C begins with the basics of design in the built environment. 

Appropriate Materials explores the underlying material framework of the built environment through the study of buildings, building materials, and other designed objects that span time and place. The course opens with a survey of the entire human history of material development - examining the contributions of vernacular traditions, individuals, and industries across the globe. The course also introduces students to material challenges and strategies that will shape the built environment of the 21st century. 

Material literacy is critical for understanding some of our most pressing challenges today:  climate collapse, the global affordable housing shortage, human and ecotoxicity, and social inequality. At the same time, many great works of architecture have been guided by individuals and groups with diverse interests, working in wildly different contexts. The course moves beyond the singular lens of sustainability to examine four criteria that determine the “appropriateness” of materials:  accessibility, performance, welfare, and value. Throughout the course, we will return to these criteria and also to our material timeline, seeking to understand the ways in which the built environment is shaped by our individual and collective material understandings and circumstances.