When Materials Take Control: On a Pedagogy that Emphasizes the Role of Materials in Architectural Education


Materials are active and performative. They invoke sensations, mediate interactions, change human intentions and induce emotional attachments. Building materials are also social and cultural constructs. They are produced through the complex relationship of legislation, regulations, production techniques, language, and use. In return, they create possibilities, limitations, and specific experiential conditions. Nevertheless, in most contemporary architecture programs, students construct their design knowledge primarily using representations of the material world. Therefore, the learning opportunities afforded by the experience of materials are usually overlooked. Considering the wider “materiality turn” in the social sciences, we present a designbuild course that uses materials as the primary agents for learning architectural design. The course is based on the belief that the learning process of designers and architects is significantly enhanced through “hands-on” engagement with the realization of full-scale prototype structures. The course was offered to third-year architecture students at Bezalel School of Architecture between 2017-2021. We present three instances of the course, each using a different dominant material for the construction of a free-standing pavilion: a Bamboo pavilion, a Tree Brunch pavilion, and a Plywood pavilion. In each case, we show how materials directed students’ learning and address the ways materials contributed to building students’ professional identities. We, therefore, argue that materials do not act merely as learning agents but also can be regarded as transformative actors in design education.


Sharan Elran
Lecturer, Ceramics and Glass, Bezalel Academy of Art and Design, Israel

Barak Pelman
Director - Hybrid Pedagogy of Arts and Design Research Lab, School of Architecture, Bezalel Academy of Arts and Design Jerusalem, Israel


Presentation Type

Paper Presentation in a Themed Session


Design Education


Materials, Architecture, Education, Designbuild

Digital Media


When Materials Take Contro (Embed)