Official newspaper of The University of Texas at Austin

The Daily Texan

Official newspaper of The University of Texas at Austin

The Daily Texan

Official newspaper of The University of Texas at Austin

The Daily Texan

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October 4, 2022

New materials exhibition at School of Architecture bursts with creativity

Hoi Chung

The School of Architecture’s Materials Lab is an industrial display of various colors, textures and media. Atop neatly arranged shelves of building materials sit small blue dioramas. These dioramas are part of Looks Like But Isn’t, the Materials Lab’s new exhibition examining materials in sustainable architecture. 

The title of the exhibition comes from the fact that the displays feature deceitful appearances. Igor Siddiqui, exhibition curator and School of Architecture Associate Professor, said the exhibition reframes the existing materials collection in the Materials Lab through the lens of environmental and social sustainability.

“One material that we have in our collection, for example, is something that looks like leather,” Siddiqui said. “But in fact, it’s not made from an animal. It’s made from mango.”

According to their website, the Materials Lab, founded in 2001, functions as a library of product samples and a workspace for students of all majors interested in design and construction. 

“We are the largest collection of construction-based or architectural materials (in the country),” said Meghan Costello, a second-year architecture master’s student who works at the lab. “We function a lot like a library in the sense that students can come into our space and check out materials and bring them with them for a period of time.”

The exhibition used materials from the lab’s collection to create dioramas grouping various materials together and showing how they could be used. 

“We were interested in showing these materials in a spatial way and also placed the dioramas throughout the space of the materials lab so that the exhibition would take up a whole environment,” Siddiqui said. “Each of the five dioramas sits on top of the existing stacks, where the material samples are cataloged and accessible.” 

The creation of the exhibition took six months, and Siddiqui worked with a team of graduate students to design and build the dioramas. 

“We made three prototypes (of the dioramas),” said Valentina Claros, a second-year master’s student who led the graduate student team. “After their creation, we decided the color, which is a good contrast with all the color tones that are here.” 

Siddiqui said the exhibition could have a positive impact on the UT community. 

“With students at the School of Architecture, I imagine that it will literally bring material possibilities to their eye level, and hopefully, through this kind of playful form of display, it will inspire students to imagine how they might use alternative materials in their own work,” Siddiqui said.

For architecture students and those interested in materials, Siddiqui said gaining real-world experience is essential. 

“My advice would be to get off your screens as much as possible and engage the physical world through direct observation,” Siddiqui said. “The message of the exhibition is that to actually know something, looks are not enough. You have to touch, feel, smell, and research the story and data that underlie the material world to know what’s going on. Be curious in many different ways, engage the world through all the senses, and do not accept the appearance of things at face value.”

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