Humankind has been building structures for a while now, and we have learned a couple of things along the way. One of the biggest lessons related to which materials could stand the test of time. We have come a long way from mud huts, but what are the most popular materials used in the 21st century?
In this post, we will answer just that. Each of these materials has its own set of strengths, so there is no singular outright winner. It all depends on the nature of the project and the overall desired outcome. With that in mind, let’s take a deep dive into the top five building materials.
From steel buildings Massachusetts to the skyscrapers of NYC, steel has earned its place as a reliable material. This reputation is primarily due to its extreme strength while remaining (relatively) lightweight. It is capable of creating large warehouses or multi-story buildings alike. It is highly durable and designed to last for decades.
Another bonus of steel is its predictability. Architects and builders alike know what they are getting with steel due to its consistent composition. Other materials can vary greatly, but with steel, what you see is what you get. That reassurance allows architects to explore a wider range of design options.
The fact that wood has been the go-to in human structures for thousands of years and remains popular is a testament to its efficacy. It is highly affordable, especially compared to materials of similar strength.
Wood is lightweight and easy to work with while simultaneously retaining its strength. It is also an effective insulator, keeping warmth in and the cold out.
The Great Wall of China and the Pantheon alike have brick, and many of today’s homes are no different. Often made from dried clay, brick is exceptionally tough and can withstand harsh climates for extended periods, including torrential rain.
Other materials, such as wood, may expand and contract in the rain, but brick stays put. The reason is the high heat treatment it receives when initially dried.
Created from a combination of materials such as sand, stone, water, and cement, concrete is a material made to last. Builders use it to construct walls, support beams, and pavements in cities across the globe. It is highly durable, so it so often forms the foundation for heavy structures such as skyscrapers.
Not only that, but concrete is also highly energy efficient. It can absorb heat throughout the day and release it at night, thus efficiently regulating the building’s temperature. Energy efficiency in buildings is an increasing concern, so we might be seeing a lot more from concrete.
While it may not be the most accessible material to source or use, stone still deserves mention on our list. Why? Because when used correctly, it can be highly effective in building structures that last. It is incredibly tough and can create stacks without the worry of breakdown (which you would find with brick).
Unfortunately, stone has primarily lost its popularity due to much more manageable, more affordable materials. However, to see how effective it can be, all you need to do is look at history. Many of our oldest structures utilize stone, and they appear as impressive as the day they broke ground.
Remember the Three Key Factors
Longevity, customizability, and durability—these three factors ultimately define the effectiveness of any material. Each we have listed possesses all three, to varying extents. Which an architect opts for will ultimately depend on personal preference and the specific structure they’ve designed.