6 Traditional Yet Timeless Materials In Architecture

Throughout humanity's history, men have used a wide variety of materials to make a long-lasting infrastructure to meet their ever-changing demands. Many institutions are more susceptible to harsh weather patterns and climate changes than before. Hence, using durable materials that age well and look well is probably more critical than before. The structure of the building also needs to look good today as it did before.

After all, a building is used to best represent the personality of an architect even after death. For a building to have its character and style, it all boils down to the materials being used to construct a building. A suitable material is like an enduring timeless beauty; it ensued low maintenance; aging gracefully, especially for the case of natural materials. There are six materials listed below that can help to create a structure that will withstand the test of time and age beautifully.

Stone/ Limestone

stone wall

Old stonework naturally topped the rankings of this life. Stones are solid and impressive natural materials. Stone buildings are known to have last for centuries and even up till centuries. Unlike bricks, rocks can be stacked with the mortar and ensured massive load-bearing. The properties of stone allow it to resist deformation and weather through time well. Not only does it withstands the test of time well, but it also withstands fire. The first usage of natural stone goes back to more than 5000 years ago and is probably one of the most extended things around.

Ancients Egyptians were best known for their use of natural stone. They use either granite or limestone to build most of their monuments. One of the famous examples would be the Great Pyramid of Cheops constructed around 2560 BC and is one of the last standing wonders of the ancient world. It was built with massive blocks of limestone. The ancient Egyptians used to cast stones to line the structure, boosting a smoother aesthetic look. However, these stones have been stolen over the years to build homes and temples. It is now left looking rough and blocky.


the great pyramid of cheops The Great Pyramid of Cheops, Egypt


However, there is an endless list of the countless benefits of a stone structure, putting to shame modern construction works that use stone as small decorative pieces. Many cheap building materials have usurped the position of stone in contemporary construction building. Steelwork construction buildings tend to use steel and wood for cost efficiency purposes.



quarried blocks of marble Quarried blocks of marble


The word marble comes from the Ancient Greek word 'Marmaron,' and it means shining stone. Marble is the result of the transmutation of rocks. The process causes the recrystallization of original carbonate mineral grains, leading in an interlocking mosaic of carbonate crystals. An example of marble with pink to light grey to maroon fossiliferous is the Tennessee marble. The world’s highest concentration of white marble building is in Ashgabat. Usually, pure white marble is the result of the transmutation of pure limestone.

A colored marble’s swirls and veins are generally due to impurities like sand or clay; iron oxides usually present in the limestone. Hence, the green coloration of swirls and veins often results from a magnesium-rich limestone or dolostone with impurities. The ancient Greek and Roman architects often use marble. The Greeks used marble to build the Temple of Artemis. These wonders of the world are made entirely of marbles. It had 127 marble columns, and each column was five stories high. However, only a few columns and the foundation remained today after being conquered by other kingdoms.


the temple of artemis The remains of the Temple of Artemis, Turkey


Today, marble is symbolic of refined and exquisite taste. A colored marble boasts a unique appearance, and it can never look the same when created. The presence of marble can be imitated through a painting technique, faux marbling.



pine wood structure A frame structure made with thin pine wood


Pine comes from the Latin word pinus. We can commonly find them in the North Hemisphere and certain parts of the Southern Hemisphere. It holds the title of the most frequently mentioned tree mentioned throughout history. They grow exceptionally well in acidic soil and even after a forest fire. The tallest pine tree is located in southern Oregon and is 270 feet tall. Over time, pinewood gains a grey-blueish sheen. Pinewood is not as good as teak wood in terms of insect or decay-resistant qualities. Pinewood is commonly used for indoor purposes such as high-end furniture, flooring, and frames. The silvering of the tree can be controlled by coated it with oils to make it more resistant to ultraviolet rays as well. There are many advantages to wood material.


horyu-ji temple Horyu-Ji Temple, Nara Prefecture, Japan


Though vulnerable to fire, moisture damage, and predation of termites, they can withstand the test of time and age gracefully. The oldest wood building is the Horyu-Ji temple in Japan and constructed around the eighth century. As a construction material, pine is the second-ranked in this list. It can function as both a decorative element and a support structure. As compared to stone, it is light weighted and robust to reduce moisture. It can also be quickly cut into length.



The work teak initially comes from the Tamil word 'Tekku.' Teak wood is known for its durability and boasting a sleek and luxurious appearance. Teak trees are commonly found in regions of South East Asia like India, Myanmar, and Thailand. The tropical condition of the countries is ideal for the growth of teak trees. A teak tree can grow up to 200 feet, with the world's biggest teak tree, standing approximately 27.5 feet in girth and 110 feet tall, in Myanmar. The usage of teak wood stretched back centuries. It was initially used by native Southern Asia tribes to build homes, free tools, and furniture.


teak support beams Support beams made of teak


Most middle-age navy ships are crafted out of teak wood. Teak pillars and structural support could be commonly found in palaces as well. It only started to commercialized in the seventeenth century when the first plantation opened in Sri Lanka. Teak wood is high in tannic acid, silvers with age and requires little maintenance like wood.

Many bench seats and outdoor accessories are made of teak as well. Unlike pinewood, it has a thick and vibrant appearance. Teak lumber also does not shrink quickly and is highly resistant to rot, fungi and mold as well. Although it ages beautifully, the tropical hardwood must be responsibly sourced to ensure it doesn’t contribute to the impoverishment of families or the clear-cutting of rain-forests.

Weathering Steel

weathering steel

The word ‘weathering’ refers to the chemical composition of steels. Weathering steel is also commonly known as corten. It belongs to the family of steel alloys developed to ease the hassle of painting. Weathering steel was first applied to architectural structures in 1964. Architect Eero Saarinen used weathering steel to design the John Deere World Headquarters located in Moline, Illinois. The main building of Odense University is clad in weathering steel too.


main building of odense university The main building of Odense University, walls clad with weathering steel


As compared to other steels, this chemical composition forms a protective layer on its surface to further resist atmospheric corrosion. After several years of exposure, weathering steel will develop into a stable rust-like appearance. Contrary to the rust-like look, the weathering steel is resistant to further corrosion and has high strength. Its distinctive layer is formed as a passive oxide coating on the surface to prevents further oxidization and protect the steel. Depending on the climate, the thickness can range from a wide array of colors such as orange, red, blue, and black. It usually takes four to six months for the outer layer to stabilize.


abetxuko bridge Abetxuko Bridge, Basque Country, Spain


The use of weathering steel, however, do poses several challenges and is extremely weak in a humid subtropical climate. In such an environment, the protective layer may not enough to protect the slide. The former Omni Coliseum in Atlanta was demolished after 25 years due to the corrosion of weathering steel.



arena birmingham building A copper facade of the Arena Birmingham building


Copper is one of the earliest metal discovered in humanity. The ancient Greeks and Romans used copper as tools or for decorative purposes. An earlier historical account has revealed that copper has been used to sterilize wounds and purify drinking water in the past. This theory has been backed up by research done by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) that copper alloys can kill more than 99% of bacteria within two hours of contact.

As a good conductor of electricity, it is now commonly found in electrical materials. It also has excellent strength and is highly resistant to corrosion. Therefore, we can use copper in many products, such as pipes. Copper can be easily soldered, polished, and buffed to any desired texture and form. Copper metal has a green patina on its surface. This light green patina is a protective layer caused by oxidation of copper carbonate and copper sulfate. Similarly, bronze also has a green protective layer with rich bronze undertones.


the statue of liberty close up The Statue of Liberty, covered in green patina


Old but usable?

There are many things to consider for a building should it withstand the test of time. It has to endure many things like weather, flood, natural disasters, rotting, predation of insects. Also, it has to consider the wear and tear of occupants as much as possible. Hence, materials need to withstand specific local climate and environmental changes and while aging beautifully. In theory, technology can help us come up with advanced materials with the desired characteristics. All of these, however, relies on the combination of factors and regular maintenance work is done.