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RDA News & Notes

In Focus: Blaine Brownell


Rice Design Alliance is pleased to announce that Blaine Brownell, alumni of Rice University and founder of Transstudio, will speak at this year’s fall lecture series, “A Material World.” Brownell is considered to be one of the preeminent research scholars on materiality in architecture and design, having written the Transmaterial book series, (2006-2010) and an online material catalog.

According to the New York Times’ story “In Search of Better (and Greener) Building Blocks,” Brownell was in charge of researching materials for the high-profile Jones Plaza renovation in Houston’s Theater District in 1999 and became frustrated by the lack of information and appropriate application of innovative materials.As Brownell says about the state of materials in design and architecture:

Despite the best intentions, material selection in architectural practices is often conducted hastily and in the service of checking boxes on sustainability scorecards. The new “materialism” has become a hyper-technological consideration in both practice and academia…Sadly, in the process of embracing so-called green design, building information modeling, and digital fabrication, we seem to have forgotten our belief in architecture as a tool for social and cultural change.

Motivated by technological advancements in materials and environmental concerns, Brownell began Transstudio blog and Transmaterial.net, both of which serve as virtual databases to house information and research on material applications—like natural paints that prevent mold and bacteria growth or building panels made out of wheat straw and grass—and emergent environmental building strategies.

Brownell earned a B.A. in Architecture with a Certificate in East Asian Studies at Princeton University in 1992, and a Master in Architecture from Rice University in 1998. He has been published in over forty design, business, and science journals, and has lectured widely in North America, Europe, and Japan. He was selected for a “40 Under 40″ award by Building Design & Construction magazine in 2006, and Transmaterial 1 was nominated for an International Book Award by the Royal Institute of British Architects in 2007.

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