ESR 3 – Mara Trübenbach

Material Orbit. A Rendering of Rituals, Decay and Trails of Dust in the Architecture Design Process

Research Objectives

The focus upon responsibility with the use of natural resources has never been more crucial than now. It almost seems like a contradiction towards consumption and materialism. Just as Jane Bennett, American philosopher, political theorist and advocate of the ontological idea of New Materialism claims: “If we think we already know what is out there, we will almost surely miss much of it” (2010). Likewise, philosopher Benulal Dhar stresses: “(…) [M]aterial values are the fundamental data of morality” (2011). The co-existence of restrictions and micro-politics are most likely, too, of great influence for the awareness of our physical environment. Thus, the motion of material i.e. from natural resources to production, use, imprint and association to a final possible discardment, involves a different consciousness than, for instance, 30 years ago. The educational background in architecture and design plays a significant role in these continuously changing understandings of material relating to the dominance of visual communication and an increasing awareness of sustainability issues. In fact, there is a symbiotic relationship between evolution of educational settings and the evolution of new kinds of discussions around materiality.

Project Description

The aim of the practice-led research PhD project Material Orbit. A Rendering of Rituals, Decay and Trails of Dust in the Architectural Design Process is to reveal the interaction between material as a communicator and as an experimental platform for designing construction systems and spaces in architecture. Furthermore, the ambition is to identify material as a tracker of tacit knowledge. Material Orbit focusses on three places where the dissertation makes a detailed observation that reveals a particularity in complications around the issue of materials in architecture and tacit knowledge: “material mediation” (representation of architecture), “material histories” (an investigation of the notion of histories attached to materials) and “material geography” (complexity of philosophical background).

By dividing the issue of material literacy, it becomes apparent that architecture is strongly attached to representation and can’t be designed without. Spinning this even further, the translation of nuances in understanding is necessary to be able to relate to the interpretations embedded in the architectural design process. To what extend does the culture of making material, influence architectural design processes at different times in history? How can we understand materiality in contemporary context? How can we challenge our existing value systems?

Tasks and Methodology

The course of action would like to address the first two concerns “material mediation” and “material history” by a paired study – partly ethnographical, partly archival. In order to tailor the diversity within the understanding of material in architecture, an overall framework of both an ethnographical study to observe contemporary architectural practice and archival studies to investigate the historical context in architectural education applies. Beyond that, the third concern “material geography” will be looked at through a literature review of current tendencies in philosophical thinking around sustainability. The dissertation would like to construct a model of tacit knowledge via a philosophical and theoretical study around its third vehicle of “material geography”.


The PhD project entails two different secondments. The practical secondment takes place at the award-winning London-based architectural firm HaworthTompkins (HT) focusing on material systems and the issue of how architecture is valued via mediated concepts. It builds upon HT’s in-house model maker and the firm’s understanding of material.Whereas the archival secondment at the Architekturzentrum Wien (Az W) concentrates on reviewing particular projects that can act as vehicle e.g. Austrian émigrés who question canonical ideas about architectural authorship and the architectural project, and who are interesting in terms of the pedagogics of material thinking. Furthermore, there is an interest in how architecture is experienced by various perspectives on a daily basis.

Dissemination and Communication

The research will be communicated through a wide range of various formats. Among the TACK contributions of a collective reader and a TACK network book, a co-written essay with the model maker of HT is expected to be published at architectural journals as well as position papers will be held on international conferences. Moreover, ongoing research findings will be published on the PhD web-based practice research platform “Material Orbit” and TACK Instagram. The final dissertation will be published as a book with ISBN at AHO.

More questions? Send Mara an email.