Grounded materials

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Grounded Material is an innovative course addressing current challenges in the construction sector. By combining a trans-disciplinary with a trans-material perspective, students develop sustainable solutions in a specific context with locally available materials and selected stakeholders.

This ETH course aspires to develop grounded materials for the construction sector – materials that are sustainable and innovative whilst still responding to the constraints and needs of those on the ground. To do so it will require students to work with several construction materials at the same time (trans-material) and take into account societal constraints in the construction sector (trans-disciplinary). We believe this approach fosters integrated and socially relevant solutions in line with current initiative for critical thinking. In interdisciplinary groups students combine knowledge from material sciences, environmental sciences, engineering and architecture. Transversally, they will explore the physical characteristics of various materials whilst taking into consideration production, design and application on the construction site through the perspective of various selected stakeholders from the construction sector. The course will be hosted by D-BAUG at the Chair of Sustainable Construction. This chair seeks to embed sustainability in all aspects of the built environment – whilst transferring integrated knowledge about the characteristics and applications of construction materials. The course will be run in close collaboration with the USYS TdLab and Amàco, an innovative teaching centre on construction materials science. ETH MSc students from the fields of civil engineering, environmental engineering, environmental science and architecture amongst others are invited to combine their knowledge and collaborate towards developing innovative solutions related to the built environment and current challenges.

Grounded Materials brought together not only students from diverse backgrounds but also an interdisciplinary teaching staff bringing different knowledge and skill sets. Students were exposed to innovative elements such as trans-disciplinary teaching including stakeholders and considering the societal context of the built environment and construction sector. In trans-material teaching students learned to combine different materials in a creative and unexpected way based on the constituting matter and apply them towards sustainable solutions. Design thinking offered an iterative approach where constraints of materials were negotiated with constraints from stakeholders and then translated into tangible sustainable solutions. The students appreciated the hands-on experience on learning, experimenting and working with materials. Site visits helped illustrate different construction processes and use of alternative materials. In three iterations of Grounded Materials students developed a broad range of diverse solutions e.g. addressing the needs of the Student Project House at ETH Zürich and constraints regarding the use of local excavation material for construction. Solutions included websites for awareness raising, a life cycle approach for applying the BIM method in construction sector, application of excavation material for construction material, and novel value chains for excavation material in Zürich.