The Tectonics of Sand

Master of Architecture
Semester 2, 2020

Studio leader(s)

The Tectonics of Sand

Insignificant as it may seem, sand is critical ingredient in the construction of the urban environment. Sand, mixed with cement and aggregate, makes concrete. Melted sand is transformed into glass. Silica sand is a key ingredient in electronics.

In the contemporary world, factors are conspiring to make us reconsider how we use sand. The high embodied energy of concrete is prompting efforts to reduce material through new structural forms for slabs and columns. New 3D printing technologies are transforming sand into a reconstituted sandstone, used as a building material (for example in remote locations like the dessert), or as a formwork for casting concrete and metals. The recycling crisis is prompting experiments in new ways to use glass aggregates.

This studio will explore the new tectonics of sand in architecture. Students will begin by exploring building materials (concrete, glass, sandstone, sand composites) and technologies (casting, 3d printing, stacking) and use this knowledge in the design of a series of small architectural elements such as stairs, windows, facades, slabs, bricks & blocks. Working both independently and in groups, students will work towards developing construction systems which critically respond to the future use of sand (as a material or a process) and test this on the design of larger buildings. In conjunction with the studies unit, The Urbanism of Sand, students will develop an understanding of how materials and systems of construction are linked with wider urban, environmental and political concerns and develop a material-urban strategy relevant to Melbourne’s sandbelt region.

There will be a focus on drawing accurate and beautiful details in axonometric and students will be encouraged to make use of the bureau services through the workshops to create small scale prototypes on plaster, plastic and clay based 3d printers.

The Urbanism of Sand

The south-east part of Port Phillip Bay is known as Melbourne’s sandbelt. This is Boon Wurrung Country, and signs of their continuing habitation are present in rock wells carved through sandstone, and shell middens along the sandy coastline. Here, sand has always been an influential force on how humans interact with their environment. The low lying sandy geology shapes the slightly undulating landscape, with water oozing through the sand to create swamps, soaks and springs. Functions such as market gardens, dumping of night soil (sewage), lime burning to make mortar (using oyster shells from middens), sand extraction for asphalt, mortar and concrete, and golf courses are just some examples of activities in this area linked inextricably to sand.

This studies unit will explore the urbanism of sand, with reference to Melbourne’s sandbelt region. Students will explore the formation and characteristics of the sandbelt geology, Indigenous land use and cultural narratives, and the history of urbanisation and industry to understand how the past has shaped the present. Students will then explore the contemporary sand industry in Melbourne: how much is extracted, where does it go, what it is used for, how is it transported and what is its future. Students will use their research to develop a critical urban stance on future use and industry in the sandbelt which will inform and provide background for the development of material-urban strategies in the Tectonics of Sand Studio which runs parallel.

Students will learn and use GIS and Storymap (online interactive map software) and combine these with archival research from newspapers, old maps, diaries and narratives to develop complex temporal maps that tell the story of the sandbelt