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Material Matters - Penn State Architecture

Close-up of concrete arch positioned on its side, supported by a metal frame.

Architecture Research Cluster

The Material Matters (MM) research cluster provides students with opportunities to delve into the interaction of materials and processes. With research ranging from material properties exploration to applied process-based design, this cluster encompasses a wide range of creative interests that find common ground in the power of material – the generator and substance of design.

Research in the MM cluster is supported by a collection of faculty members whose work focuses on craft traditions, industrial production, tooling and skills transmission, bricolage and the material imagination, material memory, design-build, and the reuse and restoration of buildings. Student and faculty engagement with Penn State’s considerable materials/making resources in architecture, fine arts, and engineering is a hallmark of this cluster. MM – as a community of scholars, architects, and designers who fabricate, build, unbuild, and innovate – stimulates new knowledge through shared experience in an environment of creative innovation, hands-on exploration, and critical making.


Explore the faculty and students in this research cluster.

Core Faculty

  • James Kalsbeek: architecture and memory; materials reclamation
  • Shadi Nazarian: architecture of glass – exploring recycled glass, ceramics, cement and their mutual interfaces
  • Esther Obonyo: architectural engineering, building construction
  • DK Osseo-Asare: kiosk culture, microtecture, humanitarian material assemblies, sustainability, design innovation, open-source urbanism, architecture robots, digital and bio-fabrication
  • Marcus Shaffer: The Machine in an architectural context, mechanization, and automation of construction/fabrication processes (existing and novel), autonomy in building/construction/fabrication in relation to human and mechanical production, construction/fabrication methods that range from hand craft to robotics/CNC, tectonic machine design and fabrication, cultural-ritual machines, machine design, machine-making, autonomous building machines, transmission of architectural knowledge, skills, and/or workmanship through tools and machines, architectural materials & processes exploration, DIY construction/fabrication
  • Daniel Willis: architecture, materiality, and energy

Associated Faculty

  • Yasmine Abbas: atmosphere, neo-nomadism
  • Pep Avilés: history of modern architecture, materialism and ornamentation, migrations and the avant-gardes, postmodern theory
  • Felecia Davis: development and use of computational textiles and materials, wearable computing, augmented intelligence and intelligent environments
  • Benay Gürsoy Toykoç: computational making, digital fabrication, shape grammars, basic design education, cognitive studies of design processes
  • Lisa Iulo: environmentally conscious design education, ecological design and planning, energy and resource efficient building and housing solutions, affordable housing, urban design, community-scale, renewable energy, integrative process, and project delivery methods
  • Scott Wing: building technologies, design/ build, ethics in architecture

Ph.D. Students

  • Elizabeth Andrzejewski
  • Julio Diarte
Collection of 20 blue-colored log cabin drawings and photos; part of a student thesis study.
Computer wireframe graphic showing orbital pattern definition of fufuzela (skeleton-skin) multi-speciation, by DK Osseo-Asare & Yasmine Abbas.

Faculty Research

Section image: Orbital pattern definition of fufuzela (skeleton-skin) multi-speciation, by DK Osseo-Asare & Yasmine Abbas.

Bamboo Architecture for Bio-digital Futures

Computer rendering of two African women carrying a Fufuzela – deployable low-cost bamboo structure

Research into bio-digitally enabled bamboo building systems

Fufuzela: A Deployable Low-cost Bamboo Architecture for Bio-digital African Futures

Lead Faculty: DK Osseo-Asare, Yasmine Abbas

Team: Oulimata Gueye, Cher Potter, Nana Oforiatta-Ayim, Tiffanie Leung

Affiliations: HuMatLab, Æffect Lab, Material Matters Cluster (primary), Design Computing Cluster (affiliate), Stuckeman School, College of Arts and Architecture, SEDTAPP, College of Engineering, Materials Research Institute, RE2 Lab

Funding: Materials Research Institute, Stuckeman Collaborative Design Research Center, Le Lieu Unique (France), Victoria & Albert Museum (UK)

This project employs a transdisciplinary “humanitarian materials” approach to explore open design strategies for co-creation of deployable low-cost bamboo architecture (fufuzela) that reformat spaces of learning and making for bio-digital African futures. Global multi-partner team (USA, Europe, West Africa) seeks to advance transformal techniques for upcycled biocomposite material assemblies via design research that integrates materials methods and green architecture (modeling, simulation/form-finding, physical prototyping, testing/validation) with participatory future design, biodesign and African computation toward interactive architectural interfaces that enable environmental customization of spatial æffect and hyperspatial networking.

Learn More:

Computer wireframe graphic showing orbital pattern definition of fufuzela (skeleton-skin) multi-speciation, by DK Osseo-Asare & Yasmine Abbas.
Orbital pattern definition of fufuzela (skeleton-skin) multi-speciation, by DK Osseo-Asare & Yasmine Abbas.

Student Publications

Theses in Material Matters

From Waste Paper and Discarded Textiles to Board Stock: An Exploration of Household Waste as a Material Resource for Making, Andrew Lewis Chesakis (2019)
Adviser: Marcus Shaffer | Committee: Esther Obonyo (Architectural Engineering), DK Osseo-Asare

Responsive Skin: Designing an Adaptive Building Envelope for Warm-Humid Climate using Bamboo Veneer as a Hygroscopically Active Material, Manal Anis (2019)
Adviser: Marcus Shaffer | Committee: Benay Gürsoy Toykoç, Ute Poerschke

Fast, Low-Skilled, and Flexible Building Assembly: Revisiting the Joint-Based Universal Building System Through Low-Tech/High-Tech Fabrication Methods, Elizabeth Andrzejewski (2018)
Adviser: Marcus Shaffer | Committee: James Kalsbeek, Timothy Simpson (Industrial and Manufacturing Engineering), Steve White

The Ephemeral Dream Space: (Re)Activating an Evocative Architecture Through Computational Devices and Bodily Interaction, Nasim Motalebi (2017)
Adviser: Marcus Shaffer | Committee: José  Duarte, Andrew Hieronymi

Machine, Block, Vault: Enhancing Earth-Built Architecture with Modified Construction Technology, Connor Pritz (2016)
Adviser: Marcus Shaffer | Committee: Mehrdad Hadighi, Ali Memari (Architectural Engineering)

Mechanizing Rammed Earth: Making New Earth Construction Viable in the US, Zoe Bick (2016)
Adviser: Marcus Shaffer | Committee: Mehrdad Hadighi, Daniel Willis

Heartwood: Pre-Design Towards the Conscientious Preservation, Renovation, or Re-Use of the Hall Log House, Chauntel Duriez (2016)
Adviser: James Kalsbeek | Committee: Richard Woodrow Pencek, Marcus Shaffer

Apparatus X: Activating the Architectural Activist, Aaron Wertman (2015)
Adviser: Marcus Shaffer | Committee: James Kalsbeek, Darla Lindberg

A group of images of rammed earth fabrication process and tooling, plus finished design architectural renderings.