THESIS – Materiality matters
Milan, IT

"Materiality matters is a work born from the desire to investigate the role of materials in architecture. Identity and sensory experience were two key words that guided the research from the beginning, leading us to ask what determines the choice of one material over another. We took the opportunity to reflect on themes such as local culture and construction traditions, and then moved on to the visual and tactile perception of materials. The research led us to formulate two important recommendations for architecture: a more conscious use of materials and the establishment of a more direct and aware relationship with their production."

Rebecca Ajolfi and Emma Josephin Balzarolo, authors of the thesis


In the last fifteen years all around the world a number of architects, mostly young, started working on projects whose common condition were limited resources. Just like any other physical circumstance, these young designers turned these shortcomings into a creative opportunity and used it as a motivation to come up with new and unpredictable solutions. These projects are the spokesperson for a new mentality, a new approach to design that is ripe for the construction of a new dimension which is renewed in its values. The search for materiality and tactility are at the heart of this new way of doing architecture, which, however, cannot avoid the first principle of the latter, which is the close comparison with the living bodies that inhabit it. In this sense, it becomes essential to solve with skill and imagination the primary need of man, specifically that of building a safe and comfortable home, a house which resembles us, that represents us and that is affordable in costs.

In this regard, architecture is configured as a tool at the service of society. Not all solutions are generated by the mind; many of them arise from direct contact between matter and human hands. When architects and craftsmen meet, they develop a unique vocabulary, focused on the material and the shapes it can take. And it is the material itself that suggests the solution. By bringing craftsmanship back into its narrative, not only as a way to preserve knowledge that is destined to disappear, but also as a mean to restore dignity to the regional flavors of each country, it creates a powerful narrative based on material and context. All of these concepts offer a new vision and understanding of a part of contemporary architecture. It is part of the tradition of the art of construction and contemporary reinterpretation, of genuine labor and free re-proposal, but above all of the contextualization of materials and their appropriate use, taking on a completely new meaning.

Illustration freely inspired by MAIO architects.

This new way of doing architecture seeks to overcome the flatness of contemporary construction which is also reinforced by a weakened sense of materiality. As buildings lose their plasticity and their connection to the human body, they become a mere element of visual stimulation. With the loss of tactility, the measures and details created for the human body, the architectural structures become flat, immaterial and unreal. The detachment of construction from the reality of matter and craftsmanship further transforms architecture into " scenography" for the eye, devoid of the authenticity of matter and construction. ​


1.1 Mass: Matter without adjectives
1.2 Material and coexistence with humans
1.3 Matter building
1.4 The authenticity of Matter - Adolf Loos

Laia and Biel's home, TE'd'A arquitectes, Barcelona, 2017. Photo by José Hevia.

Casa in Rua do Paraíso, fala atelier, Porto, 2017. Photo by Ricardo Loureiro.

"As soon as man comes into contact with matter and it becomes the object of his attention, it involuntarily becomes material. At the very moment man makes matter his own, a series of intentions are attributed to it. The term material can thus have a dual interpretation: on one hand, it is the result of the transformation of matter through technique, and on the other, through thought. The material becomes the protagonist of a unique vocabulary, where the work of architects and craftsmen is refined into a system rich in meanings."

Materiality matters, p. 29

Jordi and Africa's house, TEd'A arquitectes, Montuïri, 2015.

Casa 1413, H Arquitectes, Ullastret, 2016.
Photo by Adrià Goula.


2.1 Poor but beautiful: an eco-nomic reinterpretation
2.2 Within reach: material as mass and surface
2.3 Genuine Handicraft

Recycled Plastic Sheet, Precious Plastic.

House 712, H Arquitectes, Gualba, 2011. Photo by Adrià Goula.

"A local tradition is rediscovered, focused on the interpretation and creative manipulation of the conditions and places in which one operates. One of the main requirements for architects is the power of imagination. It is only through the pursuit of innovative and creative solutions that one can arrive at always new and unpredictable outcomes."

Materiality matters, p. 38


3.1 TEd'A arquitectes
3.2 H Arquitectes
3.3 fala atelier
3.4 Bovenbouw Architectuur

Drawing by Rebecca Ajolfi and Emma Josephin Balzarolo.

"Each piece, each element, each material wants to be itself. Just like a craftsman, they transform the material they have at their disposal; they do not invent something new, but shape and adapt the existing."

Materiality matters, p. 59

Can a Picafort, TEd'A arquitectes, Santa Margalida, 2016.
Photo by Luis Diaz Diaz.

Drawing by Rebecca Ajolfi and Emma Josephin Balzarolo.

"Fala define their method as 'working with tropes', resulting from the combination and recombination of their elementary and spatial vocabulary. Their operational tendency is manifested through the recurrence of various themes and the way these are treated: cladding, the composition of facades, large main spaces, monochrome elements, ostentatious kitchens, marble floors, or unexpected materials."

Materiality matters, p. 43

090, fala atelier, Porto, 2017. Photo by Ricardo Loureiro.

Drawing by Rebecca Ajolfi and Emma Josephin Balzarolo.

"The interpretation of structure as a sum of layers allows each time to interpret the cladding or the structure itself in new ways, thus generating different possibilities in each new work. The variation of architectural registers and the expressive potential of architecture can be explored based on each individual project."

Materiality matters, p. 50

Redevelopment of Three Historic Houses, Bovenbouw Architectuur, Antwerp, 2019. Photo by Filip Dujardin.


"An attempt was made to rediscover a deeper and more internal rationale in the use of the material, separated from its more strictly understood performances. The research allowed us to conceive of the material as a visually and physically significant element for producing architecture, as it has its own language, individually communicating its purpose and characteristics."

Materiality matters, p. 197


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Thesis by Rebecca Ajolfi and Emma Josephin Balzarolo
Supervisor Prof. Umberto Maj
Co-supervisor Arch. Ylenia Rose Testore
AY 2020/2021