Perspectives: AECOM

AECOM’s Geraldine Drake offers insights into the growth and importance of material transparency in the commercial building space.

Material Transparency matters

BY GERALDINE DRAKE, BUildings + places, diRectoR of inteRioRs in soUthfield/detRoit, aecoM

As designers, we are challenged to create spaces that solve a problem, guide an experience or perhaps improve productivity in a given space. The materials used in the space are integral to the successful outcome of the project. Every finish applied in a space needs to be evaluated, reviewed and approved by the designer and client before it is included in the project.

The selection process is complicated. It requires designers to be knowledgeable about materials in a way that is part artist, part financial wizard and part scientist. This brings about unique considerations: How will a selected building material look, how will it perform, where did it come from, what happens after it is no longer needed or is worn out? Further, how will the materials affect the environment and the health and wellbeing of us all, now and in the future?

An understanding of how materials are made, their composition and their affect on our health has become as important in product selection as finding the perfect color. Material transparency has been introduced to help navigate this effort. Understanding where materials originate or are harvested from, how they are extracted from the earth and how they are transported to a manufacturing facility are the key first steps in a transparency search for information. As transparency in building materials increases and the specifiers and end users are made aware of the concerns, the market is able to respond with safer alternatives.

Geraldine Drake

“As transparency in building materials increases and the specifiers and end users are made aware of the concerns, the market is able to respond with safer alternatives.” – Geraldine DRAKE

How manufacturers share product content information, certifications, declarations and test reports is often not in a standard format that can effectively and efficiently be used across the global building industry. A solution has been developed with the introduction of the Mindful Materials library. Mindful Materials has been developed by the industry, for the industry, to provide a common way for manufacturers to clearly communicate transparency and optimization information for building products.

Let’s consider flooring materials. Recently in the healthcare market, designers and users asked for a new flooring product that responded to healthier materials for a healthier planet. Shaw Contract responded with the introduction of a new bio-based flooring material that addresses sustainability, durability and optimal performance with ease of installation. The flooring is well suited for healthcare projects. Imagine, however, if designers and clients in the hospitality market asked for new building materials that were healthier for people and the environment.

The hospitality marketplace has unique positioning in the practice of design. Hospitality has a direct connection to consumers and proven record of influencing and changing consumer habits in the practice of environmental conservation. Hospitality design is often emulated in corporate, healthcare and the education market because of their successful ability to create spaces that speak to improving both mental and physical wellbeing. The model of a welcoming environment with thoughtfully designed spaces that encourage people to relax and gather is key to hospitality design.

Resorts are increasingly repositioning themselves as holistic wellness centers and restorative retreats. Hydrotherapy spaces, yoga pavilions, relaxation lounges and treatment rooms are being introduced in resorts such as the Amanpuri resort in Thailand or the Civana in Scottsdale, Ariz. Sustainability is emphasized and apparent in the creation of their new spaces.

Now, an abundance of new and beautifully designed building materials options that are sustainable and consider human health and environmental impacts are not out of reach.

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