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  • Writer's pictureXtreme

Five factors architects should consider when selecting building and flooring materials

Although every person seeks to find a higher “meaning” to their work, architects have a unique profession. Part engineer and part artist, the architect’s work will produce lasting monuments that will function long after he or she has retired from the profession.

Every design must fulfill a variety of requirements of both form and function which may feel restrictive in the immediate sense. However, the in-demand architect can ensure that each project will be a treasured entry into their lifetime portfolio by considering the top 5 factors below.

The Five Factors:

1.  Physical Requirements

Obviously, the building materials must be functional for the intended purpose of the building. Will the material be strong enough to support people and machinery needs?  Will it be flexible enough to withstand wind and weather?  Will flooring materials be too heavy for the support structure or too porous and subject to absorbing and spreading harmful contaminants? 

Above all, your building and design should be safe.

2.  User Experience

All industries seek to perfect the user experience of their customers.  In retail, how will traffic flow and displays hinder or help a purchasing decision?  Will shoppers instinctively know “where to go?” In software, how will users navigate the various screens and data?  Will the layout feel clunky and confusing as opposed to intuitive and friendly?

Architecture is no different.  Although a building material may “technically” perform as required, how will the user “feel” about their interaction with the environment? Will the materials selected feel “formal” as opposed to “trendy.”  Will the building feel spartan, imposing, or cold, or will it feel luxurious, inviting, and warm? Will the building material’s acoustical properties make it hard to hold a private conversation or reflect so much noise as to make the workplace very distracting and uncomfortable?

User experience is the perfect avenue to convey your unique vision for the building while also meeting functional requirements.

Material selection tools and data sheets often provide valuable information on the technical properties of materials. However, current design tools do not often describe the “intangible” properties.  Ashby & Johnson introduced “aesthetic attributes” which describe factors such as the transparency, warmth, and softness of materials in their material product list (Materials and Design: The Art and Science of Material Selection in Product Design), but architectural resources in this area lag behind other industries. 

Your clients will depend on you to paint the vision of the finished product.

Tell us about your successes or challenges in communicating your vision to a client in the comments section.

3.  Time and Money

Cost is always a factor in any project.  Materials can be perfect for the application and aesthetically pleasing, but if the client can’t afford it, the client will not use it.  Likewise, even if the material is affordable, the expertise needed to install it may be in short supply, causing timelines to expand or budgets to increase.  Refrain from choosing materials that may bottleneck development unnecessarily, or any least communicate upfront that delays could be probable.

Additionally, you must realistically acknowledge that there is a temptation to overbuild.  Is the intent of the building to last for hundreds of years or only a few decades?

It may not be glamorous, but your design should budget for the intended use.

4.  Context/Setting

Context typically encompasses three areas of consideration: physical, cultural, and intended use.

Firstly, you should consider the physical location of the project when choosing materials, because the location itself could limit your choices.  Is the development a renovation of an existing building near other structures; is it new construction on an undeveloped parcel of land?  Is the work site accessible for delivery of materials (e.g., through rainy wooded locales, or up deteriorated elevators)? 

Don’t fight your environment with unrealistic material requirements.

You should also be aware that society has built-in expectations for the types of building you design.  You’ll find it easier to work within these normal parameters and not shoot “entirely” off the baseline.  For example, we expect an elementary school to look similar to elementary schools we’ve seen before, not like a strip mall. 

Will your building seem appropriate in an urban environment; a rural setting? Are you renovating a historic area or developing in an industrial park?  Is it important to the business that your materials be sustainable and ecological?  Your materials will generate a higher level of satisfaction if they fit the culture of the building’s intended use and location.

Furthermore, the materials should assist those who work there to perform their jobs efficiently.  For example, hospital carts or beds will push easier on concrete and vinyl as opposed to luxurious carpeting. 

The building materials shouldn’t “fight” the workers in the building.

5.  Upkeep

Will your materials stand the test of time?  Will they be durable enough to withstand the necessary traffic?  Rare or hard to manufacture materials may look stunning when incorporated into your designs but could lead to glaring issues if damaged and in need of hard to match replacements. 

Additionally, extensive maintenance may be required to keep your building in prime condition.  For example, VCT flooring will require regular maintenance to meet its rated lifespan, and protective coatings are often the best option for long-term performance. Concrete flooring, although durable and resistant, may require extensive caulking to keep damage from spreading. 

Whatever material you decide upon, recognize that difficult or expensive maintenance will most likely be under-performed and could lead to the premature failure of your building materials.



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