Sustainable Materials and Healthy Products

Duration: (3h pre-recorded online lectures + 21 online live sessions / 24 hours total)

Module Introduction

The issues of sustainability have become part of individual and collective sensitivity, however, very often we are unable to go beyond the rhetoric of a generic declaration of love for nature. Designing spaces can be a form of ecology, if by this word we mean the connection between the individual and the environment, but it can also be an instrument to embrace ecological issues and an opportunity to rewrite the relationships between the built environment and nature through a conscious choice of sustainable materials and healthy products.

The course investigates the delicate transition between spaces ideation and execution in terms of materials choice and technologies selection, from traditional to innovative ones. As well, the course aims to explore the relationship between design and construction as the matrix of the expressive and perception quality of spaces, unfolding the role of matter and detail, highlighting the sustainability from preliminary design to construction, which includes origin, production, processing techniques, and post-life. The ability of an architect is precisely to guarantee human well-being and to choose the most suitable materials to create a healthy environment and, in the best case, to generate new sensorial scenarios. Accordingly, selected case studies are disclosed and compared, highlighting the principles of construction as a grammar from design to building.

Finding more sustainable and healthier materials, safe manufacturing processes can be time-consuming and resource intensive. Although much research is carried on and knowledge on materials is broad, sometimes it’s not easy to start for lack of easy access to information, or for it’s too technical. The module in Sustainable Materials and Healthier Products is created to equip designers with the right tools to make informed decisions and supply the necessary background information on basic manufacturing materials, their chemical makeups and their relationship to human health.

Course Objectives

Learning outcomes

The main goal of this course is to promote a conscious use of sustainable materials and technologies, with the aim of transferring to the participants both the scientific and practical viewpoint. Participants will learn the principles and practices supporting a holistic perspective on the design strategies and approaches that directly affect building environmental challenges.

Skill development

Throughout this course, participants will strengthen their analytical and critical skills to make informed choices of materials, products and finishes in their future projects, so to promote the sustainability of architectural construction processes with special reference to indoor spaces healthiness.

Professional growth

Upon course completion, participants will emerge as skilled professionals equipped to perform a comprehensive understanding of the most important construction and finishing materials on the market in terms of impact on the environment, life-cycle and performances. They will posses the expertise to manage the complexities of materials selection, prioritize sustainable solutions in their projects and become proactive agents of change, promoting a sustainable future through their professional careers.

Final project

During their learning journey, participants will develop a project showcasing their acquired knowledge and skills. The exercise consists in the design of a summer temporary pavilion, a space that investigates the relationship with nature through the perceptive dimension of the senses and emotions. The final project will demonstrate the participants' ability to integrate environmental design principle, eco-friendly, recycled/repurposed and recyclable materials into their design practice.

The Structure

The course spans a total amount of 24 hours, distributed between 3 hours of pre-recorded lectures and 21 hours conducted interactively through live sessions online on the Uninettuno e-learning platform.

The Healthy Materials and Sustainable Products schedule includes approximately 3 hours of face-to-face lectures each week, divided in modules as below. In addition to these lectures, students are required to engage in group or individual project work, complete assignments, and tutorials, and undertake research for an in-depth study of the topics covered in class.
HM01 - Nature of Materials (1 Unit - 6 Hours Lecture and Workshop)

21 November 2023

This lecture will provide students with an introductory exploration of sustainable materials, encompassing both traditional and innovative approaches . Students will gain a comprehensive understanding of the significance of distinguishing genuine innovation from greenwashing in the context of material selection. Additionally, the lecture will shed light on the challenges associated with implementing innovation within the construction market and emphasize the importance of finding a harmonious balance.

During the workshop, students will examine various materials, both traditional and innovative, along with their production techniques. They will assess the sustainability level, origin, and properties of these materials. By engaging in hands-on activities and case studies, students will gain practical skills to identify sustainable materials while considering the limitations and opportunities presented by the construction industry.
HM02 - Materials and their Production Techniques (1 Unit - 6 Hours Lecture and Workshop)

28 November 2023

This lecture will provide an overview of materials used in construction, including traditional materials and their evolution over time. It will focus on innovative production techniques and their role in sustainable material development. Students will learn about the advancements in manufacturing processes and how they contribute to environmental sustainability.

During the workshop, students will actively explore specific production techniques employed for various materials. Working in groups, they will have the opportunity to select a material that can be processed using both traditional and newer technologies, such as comparing clay brick making with clay 3D printing. Through this exercise, students will evaluate the sustainability aspects of each technique, highlighting their respective advantages, disadvantages, and environmental impacts.
HM03 - Performance-Based Approach to Materials Selection (1 Unit - 6 Hours Lecture and Workshop)

5 December 2023

This lecture will provide an introduction to the performance-based approach to materials selection, emphasizing its role in optimizing the use of sustainable materials. Students will gain an understanding of the key principles and concepts behind the performance-based approach, with a particular focus on energy efficiency, acoustics, lighting, and structural requirements. Through this lecture, students will develop the knowledge and tools necessary to make informed decisions when selecting materials based on performance considerations.

During the workshop, students will actively apply the performance-based approach to material selection by working in groups. Each group will be assigned a specific area, such as energy efficiency, acoustics, lighting, or structural performance. The objective will be to analyse the current materials being used to enhance the performance of spaces in that area and explore innovative materials available in the market or under research and development. Students will compare these materials based on their suitability for the architectural applications, taking into account geographical variables, sustainability, cost-effectiveness, and overall performance requirements.
HM04 - Navigating Bureaucracy in Materials (1 Unit - 6 Hours Lecture and Workshop)

12 December 2023

This lecture will address the challenges of implementing innovation in the construction field due to regulations and certifications that are necessary for safety reasons. Students will explore the bureaucratic landscape that surrounds materials in construction, including quality control measures and the process of obtaining certifications. The lecture will also introduce the main certifications relevant to construction materials.

During the workshop, students will gain practical knowledge about navigating the bureaucratic requirements related to materials in construction. They will learn how to critically assess the quality and compliance of materials, understand the certification processes, and identify the main certifications applicable to sustainable construction.

Module Leader

Alessandro Villa - Architect and Material specialist

He is an expert in materials and finishes for interior use with a specific interest for visual and tactile qualities of surfaces, involving senses and perceptive aspects. He alternates design activity with teaching; since 2003 he is an adjunct professor in Interior Design at Politecnico di Milano and faculty member at SPD Scuola Politecnica di Design. He is regularly invited for lecturing and conferences at public and private master schools in Italy and abroad.

He has been working on long-term research projects focused on innovation (3M, Fincantieri), comfort perception (Fiat Auto) and the contemporary concept of beauty (Nivea-Beiersdorf) on behalf of international companies and universities. In 2010 he was awarded at the competition "Designers Show," sponsored by the Chamber of Commerce of Monza & Brianza, for "Urban Skin", a design for a new generation of photovoltaic surfaces.

Design research inspires his regular writing of papers, articles and reports from many areas of the interior architecture for renowned maazines such as INTERNI, ME Materiali Edili and RE Recuperare l’edilizia.

In 2024 he published the book “Seeking sense”, a survey on the meaning of a project and the act of designing itself, with a special attention to the psychology of the designer and his/her intentions.

In 2004 he opened his interior design practice, also covering architecture and visual communication. The practice designs houses, offices, showrooms and commercial set ups. Works of the studio have been published on interior design magazines and by Italian and international press.