Transformative Dialogues: On Material Knowing in Architecture

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In 1857, the architect Henri Labrouste set himself to the task of designing the new Bibliothèque Impériale (later Nationale) in Paris. Already at the very start of the project, Labrouste had decided on an iron construction for its interior. That in itself was not an extraordinary choice, since from the mid-nineteenth century, iron had rapidly become widespread in the French construction industry, promoted for its affordability and incombustibility. His decision to keep the material visible and let the properties of iron guide his design does point to a specific awareness of the material. At the time, exposed iron constructions were restricted to infrastructural works and commercial buildings, and never visibly used in representational buildings for the state or cultural institutions. The material of choice for these projects had thus far been stone, whose properties had determined the architectural language for monumental buildings. Although classically trained at the Beaux-Arts and a state architect, Labrouste was somehow able to work his way past these conventions, letting iron determine the interior of an important national institute. This essay explores in more detail the interaction between architect and material, using the case study of Labrouste to get a better understanding of the idea of material knowledge and its role in the design process.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationThe Tacit Dimension
Subtitle of host publicationArchitecture Knowledge and Scientific Research
EditorsLara Schrijver
Place of PublicationLeuven
PublisherLeuven University Press
Number of pages13
ISBN (Electronic)9789461663801, 9789461663818
ISBN (Print)9789462702714
Publication statusPublished - 2021

Bibliographical note

This publication was made possible by funding from the Netherlands Organisation for Scientific Research (IGW, 2014–2016, project no. 236–57-001), from the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme (Marie Skłodowska-Curie grant agreement no. 860413), and KU Leuven Fund for Fair Open Access.


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