Material Matters: Case Studies on the Environmental Impact of Material Selection and Application

Material Matters:Case studies on the environmental impact of material selection and applicationThe various fields included under the rubric of design have had a tremendous impact on the degradation of the environment. Whether in the production of objects, buildings or interiors, more often than not, design has been at the center of human interventions that have affected particular ecosystems with global impact. With the current scientific consensus about environmental degradation, it is clear that the design fields need to re-examine their role in these changes and re-examine its practices.The network of issues integral to how humans impact the globe is a complex one, and one that is full of myths, misinformation and contradictory facts. Moreover, the role of the designer, while central, is paradoxically a limited one. For example, increasingly the mechanical and structural systems that make up buildings are outside of the control of Architects, and it is Mechanical and structural engineers, in collaboration with Construction Companies and Clients that decide and define what these systems should be, more often than not despite the advice of the architect. However, designers still hold a great deal of control over the selection and application of materials, and it is through this simple act that designers may exert one of the greatest impacts on the environment. To that end, this course will examine how material production in the various design fields, from industrial design to the design of environments and buildings, has had and continues to have a devastating effect on the planet. The course will focus on materials, their history in design, current extraction, sourcing and disposal methods, as a means of understanding these issues across a variety of design fields. The semester is divided into three parts: The first four weeks we will concentrate on looking at the history of specific materials, covering all mayor groups. The following four weeks we will be focusing on the environmental impact of each material category, as well as current and possible solutions to their effect. And finally the last weeks will be spent looking closely at current design and production practices in various fields (with a focus in industrial design) that are attempting to address the complexity of these issues from a material point of view.Student WorkloadStudents will be assigned weekly readings. Each class period intended for class discussion will be assigned to two students to moderate. Each student should come to class ready to summarize the readings and put forth a series of questions for discussion. At three times during the semester (see schedule), students are expected to make one 15 minutes presentation and submit a four page summary of their presentations (including bibliography). These presentations are to be compiled into a single document and submitted to the instructor at the end of the semester (both in digital format, as well as paper printout.)