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To save the endangered beauty from earthly dangers, you must erect a refuge of ideas that will foil the plans from the ravages of Man. Your creative science will aid you on your exploration of the wonders of materials: organic, rock, hybrid, synthetic and metal. Look around. How many different materials do you see? Where did the materials come from? What energy was needed to put them into their form? Where will they go? How long will they last? All material has characteristics: size, shape, color, texture, hardness, strength, life expectancy, life cycle.

Materials are considered renewable when the earth naturally reproduces them; non-renewable matter is material that cannot be replaced but can often times be recycled. Materials are organic or inorganic. Organic materials are those materials that come from plants or animals. Inorganic materials are those that do not naturally grow and reproduce. Materials can also be biodegradable (able to decompose) or non-biodegradable. Toxic materials are poisonous.

Materials matter!

Activity 1 – Architectural Materials

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Materials used in architecture are selected for their physical properties, their cost, their accessibility and their construction techniques. Each structural material possesses its own physical, mechanical and dimensional characteristics. Some materials can be held in your hand. Others require cranes to pick up and put in place. Concrete, steel and wood are generally considered the key building materials. Stone, clay, concrete masonry (blocks), aluminum, glass, plastics, rubber, gypsum (drywall) and other synthetic and natural materials are also used. New combinations of materials are always being explored. Just take a look around you. How many materials can you identify? Make a list in your journal of at least 25 materials in one room. List the material. Write down where it is used (wall, pencil, desk, etc.) Now take digital photos of the materials you live with. Their colors, textures, softness or hardness all contribute to your experience daily. Take your photographs and make a material quilt or collage. Post your quilt in your journal.

Start looking closely at materials!

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Activity 2 – Build With Materials

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Each material that a sculptor or designer uses has its own properties and characteristics. Making things with materials teaches the artist and designer about how the material works and how it wants to be formed. Collect some materials from your home or school that no one is going to need such as clay, sugar cubes or legos, building blocks, wire, yarn, stiff paper, sticks and pebbles. On a strong piece of cardboard 15” x 15”, draw two horizontal lines and 2 vertical lines to split the board into nine 3” x3” squares. In each square build a house using only one main material such as cubes, planes, sticks, wire, clay. Make each house to fit a person 1” tall. Start Building! Find out how material size, dimension and joint capabilities determine shape and form. Some materials dictate form. Others can be used in many ways! Master materials!

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Activity 3 – Material Pros and Cons

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Pick two architectural materials. Research them by finding buildings in your neighborhood that are built with them. Research in your library or on-line who else uses these materials. Are your materials made locally? Are they made all over the world? Investigate the advantages and disadvantages of your materials. Consider how long they last, where they come from, if they are heavy or light. Document sizes and draw images of your materials. Materials are all around us!

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Activity 4 – Paper Or Plastic?

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Think about your materials in your daily life. Almost everyone goes to the store to buy things they need. A familiar question at the check out line is “Paper or plastic?” Which do you think is more sustainable? “Paper or plastic” brings up questions about where the material comes from, how it is produced, how it is transported and how it is distributed. “Paper or plastic” also brings up ideas about where the material goes when we are finished using it. The beginning, middle and end of a material is considered its lifecycle. The lifecycle of a material is important to our carbon footprint, or amount of carbon our activities give out into the atmosphere. A life-cycle looks at the environmental impact throughout all the stages of a material’s life, from-cradle-to-grave (i.e., from raw material, processing, manufacture, distribution, use, repair and maintenance, disposal and/or recycling).

Paper is biodegradable, meaning that it will decompose and go back into the ground. Plastic bags on the other hand, more often are not. Unfortunately they become stuck in our tree tops, along our roadsides, even in the throats and stomach of ducks, seals, and fish. Start being more sustainable by bringing your own bag to the store. Reusing bags stops the flow of unused bags and slows down the need for production of more bags. Even better, design a reusable bag that your school or community can use. Make new choices!

Activity 5 – Meet with a Material Professional!

Many professionals work with materials. Some work in factories to make the materials. There are stone, masonry, glass, wood, plastic, steel, fiber and many other types of material manufacturers and fabricators. Material representatives or material ‘reps’ market and sell the materials to architects, designers, contractors, showrooms and other businesses. Some professionals manage showrooms of many materials. Designers design with materials for clients. Architects plan buildings and interiors for people. Interior Designers furnish and finish spaces with materials. Look online to find material reps or contractors in your local community. Invite them into your classroom to talk about how they learn about new materials and use existing materials.Study their company and prepare a list of questions in advance of their visit. Take photos of your meeting with the professional and post to the gallery.

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  • Why are certain materials used in certain places?
  • Which one is an inorganic material?
  • Which one is an organic material?
  • Which material is usually cold to the touch?
  • Which material isn't flexible?
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