Architectural Record BE - Building Enclosure

Intrinsic Materials: Modernism, Sustainability and Fiber Cement Panels

Designers for the 21st century can choose sustainable fiber cement panels to express rhythm, fastening and texture in a sustainable, durable and affordable panel solution.
This course is no longer active
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Sponsored by James Hardie Building Products
Celeste Allen Novak, AIA, LEED AP
Continuing Education

Learning Objectives - After this course, you should be able to:

  1. Examine the theories of Modernism and determine the application of fiber cement panels as part of a contemporary and sustainable design palette.
  2. Evaluate the reasons to select fiber cement panels engineered for long life/loose fit in different climate zones.
  3. Discuss the integration of fiber cement panels and trim components as part of a sustainable wall cladding in a weather-resistant wall system.
  4. Review the sustainability, durability and economic applications of fiber cement panel solutions in affordable design projects.


1 GBCI CE Hour

The giants of the modernist movement were the architects and artists of the Bauhaus. At this mid-twentieth century design school, designers probed the means and materials of how buildings were constructed and conceived. They developed a new aesthetic that elevated mass industrialization as a means to produce great design for everyone using affordable methods and materials. They celebrated the intrinsic nature of materials and the formal rhythms of design expression. Like environmentally conscious professionals today, architects such as Charles Eames, also asked questions about the permanence and cost of materials. Eames believed that any architect who wanted to design a truly successful prefabricated house "must first become a student of human behaviour, as well as science, economics and industrial engineering." He is quoted as saying, "The value of the house that results from such a combination…will be measured by the degree to which it serves for the amount of energy it costs. The relation of service to price is so important that nothing can justifiably be added to the house that does not increase its value in service."1

In the 1950s, architect Eero Saarinen developed materials that would be placed in a five-foot grid to standardize his design intention for the General Motors Technical Center in Warren, Michigan. The assembly line for building components was influenced by Detroit automotive companies. The manufacturing of building components as a design vocabulary for large buildings created a process which saved money, time and the cost of onsite training for each project, particularly for the large post-war construction of the mid-twentieth century. These designers and subsequent architects and engineers applied the fixed grid and metal panels to many projects, although their idealized cost-effective, unique design solutions for the masses were limited by standardized sizes. A welcome addition to the commercial material design toolkit is the new fiber cement panel solution that incorporates expressed seams and fasteners. Designers applying contemporary design theory into new buildings will now be able to broaden their choices to include this durable, cost-effective and sustainable material.

 These panels are designed with components that can be modified to express any unique horizontal and vertical grids. They are also being used by designers seeking to broaden their material choices from contemporary to post-modern or transitional designs.

This work/live project in Seattle, Washington demonstrates how contemporary designers can use new fiber cement panel solutions with expressed trim and fasteners to accomplish their design goals.

Photo courtesy of James Hardie


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Originally published in Architectural Record