Architectural materials are the essential tools that architects use to make their visions come to life. They are the equipment for the physical manifestation of the built environment. A diverse array of building materials are readily available today. From age-old natural materials like stone to new-age materials like carbon fiber, the list is endless. They are classified in many different ways, a few of these classifications are listed below.

What are the classification of architectural materials? - Sheet1
Components of a Building_©< >.

Classification based on the Source of Materials:

Building materials can be classified on the basis of their source. Materials obtained from natural sources are natural materials and the ones manufactured are called artificial materials.  This is the most basic way of identifying and classifying architectural materials.

  • Natural materials:
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Natural Materials_©AKM Saleh Ahmed Anik

Natural materials are the materials readily available in nature. They require minimal change to be used as construction materials. Common examples of natural materials include wood, mud, stone, sand, and many more. These raw materials need no change in chemical composition. They possess all the desired qualities for construction.

  • Artificial materials or manufactured materials:
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Artificial Materials_©2022 Steel Fabrication Services

Artificial materials are manufactured using raw materials with intense physical and chemical processes. The original material changes radically in the process. The resulting material turns out to be very different from the raw material used. Manufactured materials have greater strength and are very versatile. Common examples of these include cement, bricks, steel, glass, etc.

Classification of Building Materials based on Composition:

What are the classification of architectural materials? - Sheet4
Building Materials on composition_©2022, Green Advocacy Partners, LLC.
  • Inorganic materials: The building materials processed by the addition of other elements are inorganic materials. These materials perform better when processed. Examples of these include consist of, cement, lime, gypsum, steel, etc.
  • Organic materials: These are materials used in their natural states without significant chemical alterations. Examples of these include such as mud, wood, and biomass.
  • Composite materials: Composite materials are natural materials tweaked for yielding better results. The tweaking may involve chemical alterations, however, the resulting material retains originality. Examples of these include engineered wood, bricks, etc.

Classification Based on the Usage:

The most practical classification of materials is based on their purpose and technology.

Structural materials:

What are the classification of architectural materials? - Sheet5
Structural Materials_©2022 Brindley Construction, LLC

The materials that carry the load of the building are structural materials.  They make the structural frame of the building. These may include materials like concrete, steel, wood, or even load-bearing structures made of stone or brick walls.

Functional materials: The materials that serve a purpose other than carrying loads come under the umbrella of functional materials. A diverse range of building materials comes under this category. It includes everything from the envelope in the form of walls or roofs to the materials used to coat the building like paint. Functional materials can thus be further classified into the following sub-categories.

  • Masonry:
What are the classification of architectural materials? - Sheet6
Brick Masonry Wall_©Andre J Fanthome

Masonry refers to the stacking of individual blocks to create a larger member. Walls are generally made in the masonry of stone, bricks of different materials like clay, ash, or even glass bricks.

  • Roofing materials:

Materials that are used to make roofs come under this category. Sloping or curved roofs use functional materials as they are not load-transferring. Materials like steel, wood,  bamboo, roofing tiles made of clay, slate, etc., or thatch, etc. are roofing materials.

Materials used on the outer shell of the building can be termed as facade materials. They enhance the appearance of the building or can control the amount and quality of indoor light. Cladding materials such as stone or ceramic tiles, wooden paneling, and cement board panels are included in this category. Also, materials used for creating fenestrations like glass, wood, and aluminum, are facade materials. 

  • Binders and mortars:

Binders and mortars used in conjunction with masonry or plasters are a part of this category. Cement, lime, polymeric materials, or pozzolanic are all included in this category.

  • Thermal insulation materials:

This category includes materials used for insulating the interiors from external weather conditions. Common examples of thermal insulators include fiber, mineral wood, cork, etc… Their main purpose is to prevent heat exchange between the interior and the exterior.

  • Acoustic materials:
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Acoustic Materials_©LucaOnniboni

Acoustic materials are soundproof materials that absorb sound thereby, minimizing noise pollution. They are especially useful for auditoriums, cinema halls, and large closed event spaces. Mineral wood and wood wool are good examples of acoustic materials.

  • Waterproofing materials:

Materials used for protecting the building from water-related weather conditions constitute waterproofing materials. Waterproofing layers are extremely essential for the proper functioning of the building. Generally, chemical waterproofing layers are added to roofs and basements.

  • Sealing materials:

In the case of prefabricated structures, the joints need to be sealed with special sealing agents. They are also used at the intersection of two different materials or joining two elements. Silicon-based polymers, fluoro rubber, and other chemical mixes are a few examples of sealing materials.

  • Finishing materials:
Finishing Materials_©Jorg Greuel/Getty

Materials that are used as final finishes are called finishing materials. Plasters made of cement, lime, gypsum, etc., and paints or polishes are all examples of finishing materials.

  • Special purpose materials:

Materials that have special-case applications like in industries with high acid resistance or heat resistance can be clubbed into this category.

Classification based on Newness:

New-age Alternative Materials_©2022

The building construction and material industry is constantly evolving. Things that were relevant once are soon becoming outdated. Thus materials can be categorized based on their newness and current relevance and application.

  • Conventional/traditional materials: Conventional or traditional materials include age-old natural materials like wood, bamboo, mud, etc… In today’s era, even industrial materials like glass, steel, and concrete have also become conventional.
  • Innovations in traditional materials: The construction industry is in search of greener materials that help mitigate the challenges of climate change. Techniques are being invented for using natural materials in contemporary architecture. Engineered wood, cross-laminated timber, etc. are a few examples of innovations in traditional materials.
  • New and alternative materials: New-age alternative materials are the materials invented to help reduce the impact buildings have on the environment. These are generally made using waste or use minimal energy creating sustainable green materials. Ferrock, timber creek, polyester fibers, bitumen, etc. are all examples of alternative materials.

Architectural materials define the kind of impact the built environment has on climate. It is, thus, essential to choose them wisely and create sustainable, functional, and aesthetic architectural forms.


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Namita Dhawan is an architect and a writer. She is extremely enthusiastic about architecture, design, history, research, and writing. She believes architecture is about power, it can provoke thoughts, and emotions, and control the actions of the users subtly.

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