Material Practice and Provenance

Where do our building materials come from? Increasingly byzantine chains of custody obscure the sources of their extraction, while contemporary discourse tends to exclude the facilitating infrastructure, cities, towns, and settlements; collateral architectures–places–that exist only concomitantly, through prospect, discovery, boom, and bust. Building materials “embody” not only energy and environmental detritus, but social and architectural provenance.

How can we begin to map or visualize the material pathways on which a project, practice relies? How can studying the resource–driven “end nodes” on our oftentimes remote peripheries inform material practice? And how can we begin to understand the causal agency of our discipline, within the context of global construction trends? FSC–Certification ascribes virtue to wood harvested conditionally, but what are the architectural implications prefigured by these conditions, and how can we possibly assimilate these ideas with respect to non-renewable resources, like stone or copper; what exactly is “sustainable mining,” if it at all exists? To structure the research and grant context to the itinerary, I will be delineating the origins of major building materials from a recently–completed and local case study—UC Berkeley’s Sutardja Dai Hall, also known as the CITRIS building.

Sutardja Dai Hall is home to the Center for Information Technology Research in the Interest of Society (CITRIS), the Banatao Institute @ CITRIS Berkeley, as well as the Berkeley Center for New Media; altogether, an apt subject for a study in materials, information, and mapping. Excepting its highly-specialized research facilities, the 7-story building provides a fairly representative construction; the goal is not to appraise the merits of Sutardja Dai Hall specifically, but better understand the trending material flows requisite to contemporary construction at large. Supposing I can identify the particulars of the building’s material–origins, the John K. Branner Fellowship affords travel to these sites—I hope to document the breadth of CITRIS’s derivation.