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We knew that in every city has a history timeline, that it could conclude how far those cities are developing. For many people, particularly traveller, it must be interested in figuring out the romantic story of the town that expressed in detailed classic Victorian buildings, or maybe researcher who is predicting the sustainability of a city by tracing barefoot of urban renaissance.

In each era, cities had put those evidence in, a mainly urban element that is attached to buildings. Besides, the material is one of that evidence to trace how those cities grew, whether it is moving forward or even it was decreased. All materials that attached in buildings are explaining all about beyond their background of the concept before they born. All they have from the past period, such as stone, wood, or clay, which is those natural materials commonly were use to construct traditional and vernacular buildings. Baby boy buildings born takes a new different colour, texture, and pattern. In particular, it makes us feels different ambience in each location where we were visited. If you are a world traveller, you will easy to understand what I mean when you had experiences visited Asian, European, American, Africa, and Australia. They have a specific ambience colour that materials create it.

Now, let’s take a seat to enjoy a glass of latte and discuss with a question: What you feel when I ask you to describe a Middle East region? Then, what will you imagine about the megacity Dubai, that in particular in the Middle East? The first impression that all of you agree will said brown sephia ambience, desert colour, bit greenery palm tree and blinding eye yellow hot sunshine colour.

Photo : The desert as particular icon of Middle East Countries,  A. Isrefidianto 2011

In particular, a buildings district that seen is regularly in brown clay cubical with small windows, built in a row of narrow stone pavement alley. This shape is one of the original typical buildings configurations in the Middle East.

Photo : Replica of bedoin camp, Al Awir Desert,  A. Isrefidianto 2018
Photo : Old tourist village Al Bastakiya Dubai,  A. Isrefidianto 2018

In the other hand, we will see a contras transformation on it in Dubai downtown, from sephia ambience to glossy and metallic blinking ambience. It is about texture and colour that give us different experiences where you stand.

Photo : Downtown Dubai taken from Palm Jumeirah Island,  A. Isrefidianto 2018

In simple terms, urban transformation is particular had appeared by architecture design innovation. It comes along developed of building structure science and technology, according to respond to people activity that it is generating more in each era. For instance, steel and metal material to support wide span or advance building construction, and also providing durable cladding building skin, meanwhile it is that never been found previously.

Photo : Metal cladding MRT Station Downtown Dubai,  A. Isrefidianto 2018

Furthermore, this innovation is part of a sustainable industrial era, that today is allowing architects to become more attractive and creative in designing. In consequence, we can say that architect able to tell urban history timeline and how those cities are growing up.

Photo : Jumeirah Dubai Trade Center,  A. Isrefidianto 2018

It is nearly perfect when our walk path also gives a different experience, from sand or soil overlay, become stone pavement, and now asphalt that can produce renewable energy. Last but not least, top cover that made from leave roof, had improved become clay roof, and now it is familiar with membrane and glass roof cover. They were also coming along with the invention of technology. However, building materials were taking us into romantic period, but it is also guiding us into living in future. So now, can we project how a city in Mars it looks? Let’s make it possible.

Photo : Burj Al Khalifa Dubai,  A. Isrefidianto 2018



3 responses to “Urban Timeline: Materials Talks”

  1. Charlotte O’Dea thank you for your concern to open this discussion.

    My concern in this particular issue come from my experiences while visiting many places, from the ancient city such as Cairo city in Egypt to the modern city that I had mentioned above, Dubai. The building is a small piece that contributes creating of a city overall, and the building construction is involving materials. I am basically as an architect concern what is the effect of buildings with various materials, into a city.

    A city has characteristic that it’s representing themself. According to the essential five points of urban theory by Kevin Lynch, urban materials it’s an aspect to clarify the sharp image of large city area that it’s mention as a district (Lynch, 1960). In his theory, he said that texture, form, and detail is to determine the physical characteristic, and it makes the city have well-oriented (Lynch, 1960).

    The urban timeline could be traced within materials. Materials are encountering between us and places with a specific history and representation. It can describe the background of how this place had created by government regulation and the social structure that represents the particular welfare regime circumstance at that time (Frers and Meier, 2007).

    Buildings material is giving contributions that make urban comfortable (Dessi. V, 2011). According to her research, materials give massively impact into urban temperature. When heat island not controlled well, it could be triggering disaster caused by overheating. The urban designer might be having the force to guiding the architect to determine their buildings materials. Marble materials can absorb 20% of radiation, and the surface temperature will steady in low, but the 80% it’s reflecting on the environment and hitting others urban surface.

    In my brief conclusion, in the future, material innovation will always stop, as along the construction industry still running. Next in the 22nd century, we’ll see how the city in 21st century developed by tracking the material that today is common to see, seems as we have viewed recently to see previous century the urban development. Armed with experience and theory above, let’s now thinking what materials that could fix to build our new city in Mars.


    Frers, Meier, Frers, Lars, Meier, Lars & Ebooks Corporation (2007) Encountering urban places : visual and material performances in the city. Aldershot, England ; Burlington, VT: Ashgate.

    Lynch, K. (1960) The image of the city. Cambridge [Mass.: Technology Press.

    Dessi, V. (2011) Urban materials for comfortable open spaces. World Renewable Energy Congress 2011-Sweden 8-13, Lindkopking, Sweden.

  2. Thank you Arief for touching upon the fascinating subject of materiality.

    I liked your title and the thought of ‘Materials Talking’. Frank Tamberino believed “an object can tell a story in a way that nothing and no one else can”[1] . So much about our world’s past has been learnt from analysing materials found. If you take Pompeii as an extreme urban example, archaeologists were able to uncover and record people’s lives in incredible detail, right down to what people were eating on that fateful day in 79A.D.
    However, as you discuss, materiality isn’t just important for learning about how we used to live; it is also a fundamental part of how we are living today and plays a crucial part in how we best prepare for our lives tomorrow.

    It, therefore, surprises me that “material research has been important in architecture and building research, however, is not often seen in literature of urban design and planning.”[2] This comes through even in your blog post as, despite coming from an urban design background, a large proportion of the post was spoken about and seen in relation to architecture where you even state “we can say that architect able to tell urban history timeline and how those cities are growing up.”[3] What about the urban designer?

    Camillo Sitte’s descriptive nature of cities is the closest I have read of an urban designer considering materiality being vital to the experience of cities. “He thought about scale and building materials, views and elevations, the integration of ornamental features with functional buildings.”[4] yet even here materiality is seen mainly as an aesthetic reasoning. I’m curious is materiality considered in urban design far more than it is portrayed to be [ i.e. is this discrepancy just down to levels of scale: urban->architecture -> materiality] or is there in fact an exciting opportunity for urban designers to add another layer of depth? As Mark Miodownik wrote in Stuff Matters, “everything is made of something”[5] and with the way technology is developing there are some exciting new materials being developed which could transform the future of our cities. While I’ll agree it is fun to depict what a city on Mars might look like; I’m even more excited about how we can use materials to mend and continue to develop our cities to ensure there is a future to look back on our times from.


    [1] Smail, D. (2015) What is Material History,, Accessed January 2nd, Available at:

    [2] Yang, P. et al, (2016) ‘Material Based Urban Modeling: An Approach to Integrate Smart Materials in a Near-Zero Community Design’, 8th International Conference on Applied Energy, Beijing International Convention Center, 8-10th October. p3766

    [3] Isrefidianto, A. (2019) Urban Timeline: Materials Talks, Urban Design Blog, Newcastle University, Accessed January 2nd, Available at:

    [4] Sitte, C. (1889) From: The Art of Building Cities: Author’s Introduction and other pieces, in The City Reader, pp.474

    [5] Miodownik, M. (2014) Stuff Maters, 2nd edn, Penguin Books, London

    Nasar, J. L. (1994). Urban Design Aesthetics: The Evaluative Qualities of Building Exteriors. Environment and Behavior, 26(3), 377–401. Available at:

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