​Material Turn spring thesis work: Mimmi Amini and Julia Dandebo (left), Humda Malik (middle), and Joel Montgomery Claesson (right)​

Material Turn

ACEX35​ Master’s thesis direction, 2022/2023

IWe are potentially on the brink of a materials revolution that could help rebalance our relationship with our planet. Thanks to designers and makers who are fostering disruptive approaches, we are beginning to see that alternative systems of production and consumption are possible – and we are recognizing that material innovation will be crucial to achieving this.
                                                                           Kate Franklin and Caroline Till, ‘Rethinking Materials’

Description and aim

Material Turn considers architecture in a world that is increasingly conditioned by an emergent synergy of novel materials and new digital media. Architects are no longer restricted to building materials defined by the disciplinary tradition, and neither are they confined to tools of the mainstream practice. The latest advances in materials science and digital manufacturing provide a radically new palette of matter and design media that can help to critically reflect on, address and potentially resolve the current predicament of depleted planetary resources, greenhouse gas emissions, energy consumption and non-circularity of the building industry. The building industry is responsible for around 38% of the green house gas emissions and 40% of the energy consumption [United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) 2020]. As such we need to radically rethink the way we conceive of our built environment proactively embracing emergent technologies.

New materials, composed from organic, degradable, fleeting and difficult to tame matter, can be no longer subjected to traditional requirements, such as eternal durability and ultimate control. Embracing them as a designer requires a shift in architectural thinking and making practice. Instead of forcing matter into a predefined shape, a new disruptive practice, involving a synergy of analog and digital media allows the material agency to partially or entirely take over the design outcome, leading to unprecedented new expressions and functionalities unthought of before. Likewise, traditional materials are now reconceptualized within the new frameworks of thought and tooling, and novel material interfaces, bridging the unknown and the known, the contemporary and the historical, are addressed anew by an emergent material practice of architecture. In exploring the new materials, digital technologies such as parametric design, high-precision 3D scanning and 3D printing are of great help to condition them into novel architectural element typologies. They also aid architects in endowing the existing building components with new life-prolonging functionalities, achieved by sparingly adding the material instead of wastefully carving it out.

Navigating its way between these new materialities and enabling media, Material Turn creatively explores the opportunities as well as the constraints of this emergent condition of contemporary architecture. It investigates how matter and new approaches to its handling, fueled by a synergy of traditional and alternative instruments of design and production, can inform an architectural process and its design outcome. Material Turn acknowledges that what once occurred exclusively in the science labs and on computer screens has found its way into the material world through fabrication, machine vision and the DIY maker movement. As such, Material Turn promotes critical design that paves the way to a novel approach for architecture, in which digital technology serves a dual purpose of artistically as well as pragmatically harnessing new sustainable materials added to the repertoire of the existing - to realize the vision of more respectful care of our planet and its resources.

Approach and process​

Material Turn celebrates a highly exploratory, experimental design approach, driven by curiosity and artistic freedom coupled with science-inspired, systematic methods of probing the design questions of the master thesis. Hence, the thesis development activities will combine open-ended and creative design speculations with more rigorous and systematically planned design experiments. Importantly, the work will be clearly positioned within the past and/or present cutting-edge academic research, discourses, theories, and experimental practices of architecture. The design work in the thesis, carried out within a hybrid practice framework based on the idea of synergizing art, craft, design and digital technology, is meant to awaken new critical insights on what architecture used to be, what it is today, and what it shall become in the near future. Supervision and reviews during the thesis will support the student in identifying moments when design makes it possible to address a scientifically inspired or a technologically oriented query, or when arguments developed through reading and precedent studies inspire and give rise to an original artistic approach to design.

Throughout the thesis, analog, digital and mixed media drawings, animations, models, mock-ups, and other types of representations supporting the communication of the design will be developed iteratively. Special emphasis will be placed on how design concepts and architectural qualities unfolded in the creative process can be further developed and boosted through translations between various media.

Thesis booklet
A continuously evolving Thesis booklet should be used as an active part in the design process. The student’s production will be carefully documented, edited and annotated in order to be integrated into the booklet on a weekly basis. Information becomes diagrams, sketches are scanned, models photographed, analysis is concluded, references to work or readings are reformulated and turned into arguments, conclusions are formed as design, exploration and systematic work intertwine.

Specific evaluation criteria

In addition to the common evaluation criteria defined for the master’s thesis at Chalmers School of Architecture, Material Turn places special emphasis on the following aspects:
  1. The comprehensiveness of the thesis – its ability to productively span frominitial creative explorations to a design proposal, positioned within an existingcontext – contemporary or historical.
  2. The contextualization of the thesis – its critical positioning in relation to aparticular architectural theory/ies, discourse/s, precedent/s and/orcontemporary architectural research trajectories.
  3. The ability to use technology and/or matter as a design medium to uncovernew ideas, methods, or ways to practice architecture.

Specific submission requirements

Students submit their work for review during the thesis semester as follows:

Intro session, beginning of the semester.
  • Verbal presentation and submission of a written project plan (thesis prepbooklet, completed).

Interim seminar 1, ¼ of semester:
  • Verbal presentation of work in progress and review in 20-minute slots.
  • The presentation format is printed presentation posters, models, etc. andthesis booklet (encompassing most recent work in progress).
  • The presentation should include thesis statement/question, context (site,design precedents, literature references, specification ofdiscourse/theory/research trajectory related to the work), concepts, designand/or material studies and anticipated designed outcome.

Mid-term seminar, ½ of semester:
  • A comprehensive verbal presentation of thesis design work to date and reviewin 50 mins slots. 
  • The presentation format is printed presentation posters, models, etc. andthesis booklet (encompassing most recent work in progress). The chosenmedia of the presentation (drawings, models, video, etc.) should suggest thefinal mode of presentation.
  • The presentation should suggest the final scope of the thesis project, beyonda presentation of studies, references, tests, analysis, etc. Hence, it shouldinclude a compilation of design explorations, process and method outline, draftof project drawings that indicate the final design (site plan, plans, sections,elevations, axonometries/perspectives, diagrams, details, views, illustrations),models and model photographs.

Interim seminar 2, ¾ of semester:
  • Verbal presentation and review in 20 mins slots.
  • The presentation format is printed presentation posters, models, etc. and thesis booklet.
  • A complete mock-up of final thesis presentation, including draft versions /placeholders for all items to be included. The presentation should make itpossible to assess the relationship between the thesis (how the project isframed and formulated through title, abstract, references, etc.) and the finaldesigned outcome.

Final seminar, end of semester:
  • Verbal presentation and review in 50 mins slots.
  • The presentation format is printed presentation posters, models, etc.
  • A complete project presentation of final design that is assessed by a reviewerand direction faculty.
  • Examination: Pass / Fail (communicated after the seminar via email).

Open seminar, end of semester:
  • Verbal presentation and review in 50 mins slots.
  • The presentation format is presentation posters, models, etc. and Thesisbooklet.
  • A complete project presentation of final design that is assessed by a Review Committee member and direction faculty. Final draft of Thesis booklet.

Final submission, after end of semester:
  • Submission of printed presentation posters, models, etc. (completed) andThesis booklet (completed).

Suggested literature and projects

This list provides a conceptual outline of the direction, exemplifying several of its main themes: novel sustainable materials, new materiality, new material interfaces, digital design and fabrication techniques, and critical computing. Further literature and references will be developed in relation to each project, in dialogue with each student. Many of the items below contain further references to projects and practices.

Antonelli, Paola. 2020. “The Neri Oxman Material Ecology Catalogue”. New York: MoMA.

Borden, Gail Peter and Michael Meredith. 2018. “Introduction and Material Premise.” In Lineament: Material, Representation and the Physical Figure in Architectural Production, 1-4. Oxon: Routledge.

Borden, Gail Peter and Michael Meredith. 2012. “Introduction: Foreign Matter.” In Matter: Material Processes in Architectural Production, 1-6. Oxon: Routledge.

DeLanda, Manuel. 2015. “The New Materiality”. Architectural Design, 85(5), 16-21.

Franklin, Catherine and Caroline Till. 2019. “Radical Matter: Rethinking materials for a sustainable future.” London: Thames & Hudson.

Carpo, Mario. 2017. The Second Digital Turn: Design Beyond Intelligence. Cambridge: The MIT Press.

Gramazio, Fabio and Kohler Mathias (eds.). 2014. “The Robotic Touch: How robots change architecture”. Zurich: Park Books.

Gramazio, Fabio and Kohler Mathias (eds.). 2014. “Made by Robots: Challenging architecture at a larger scale”. London:Wiley.

Gross, Matthias. 2010. “Introduction: Brave the Unknown.” In Ignorance and Surprise: Science, Society, and Ecological Design, 1-10. Cambridge: The MIT Press.

Lavin, Sylvia. 2012. “Vanishing Point: Sylvia Lavin on the Contemporary Pavilion,” in Artforum, October, 2012: online access.

Rael Ronald and Virginia San Fratello. 2018. “Printing architecture: Innovative recipes for 3D printing”. New Yourk: Princeton Architectural Press.

Römert, Olivia and Malgorzata Zboinska. 2021. ”Aligning the analog, digital and hyperreal: Software errors as design exploration drivers”. ACADIA 2021 Conference on Realignments: Toward Critical Computation (article in press).

Exemplary thesis projects from Material Turn 2016-2018


Barbara Gwóźdź & Joline Schikan, The Seaweed Archives: A material study of seaweed as a building material and its implementation on two buildings on North Koster, Sweden.
Emil Blücker, Future Monuments: Tracing the Anthropocene.
Olivia Römert. Reality and beyond.

Rebecka Rudin. RePrint.

Aswini Balashanmugam & Aran Mardoukhi, Myceliosis: Living in Synergy with other Species.
Josefine Grönlund & Samuel Norberg, jamming structures: Aggregations of construction and demolition waste transforming over time. 
Karl Åhlund, Break: a post-digital exploration of the cleaving of timber.
Osama Rahahleh, Temporal juxtapositions: Views of an alternate timeline of Gamla Stan.

Angelia Kjellén & Kalle Hellmark, NUANCE - Exploring Regional Characteristics
Ayoub Chkairi, Hybrid Territories: Towards a New Sublime and the Cybernetic Meadow.
Fabian Sellberg, Deep Architecture - Machine learning and the future of architecture.
Julia Grünbaum, IDLE - Spaces for Pause in a Society Paced by Capitalism.

Karolina Bloch Micro: Design Potential of Microbial Cellulose in Growing Architecture
Joel Hilmersson BORDERLINE BODIES - Integrating structural geometry within a resilient, architectural framework.
Theresia Vängborg Nyberg Temporalities: Flexibility and Adaption in Large Scale Structures – in Connection with the 2024 Paris Olympics

2018 & before
Julia Dandebo and Mimmi Amini Le Temps: Enhancing the Experience of Architectural Qualities of Clouds by Cultivating Time 
Erik Hadin and Emily-Claire Nordang Plastic Island: Three Structures based on Transformed Ocean Plastic
Erik Widell Transitional Voxels: Methodology for Varying Resolution in Digital Brick Architecture To be made available

Direction faculty

Jonas Lundberg, Lecturer – examiner and supervisor
Malgorzata Zboinska, Associate Professor – examiner and supervisor

Page manager Published: Fri 09 Sep 2022.