Blaine E. Brownell is Professor and Director of the School of Architecture at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte, and an architect and researcher of emergent materials and applications. A former Fulbright scholar to Japan, he has authored eight books on advanced and sustainable materials for architecture and design, including Matter in the Floating World, Material Strategies, and the four-volume Transmaterial series. He writes the Mind & Matter column for Architect magazine, and his work has been published in over 70 architecture, design, science, and news journals including Nature. Before joining UNC Charlotte, Blaine was interim head of the School of Architecture at the University of Minnesota. He was elevated to the American Institute of Architects’ College of Fellows in 2020.
[This bio refers to Blaine E. Brownell. Information on his father, Blaine A. Brownell, may be found here.]
Long Bio (from AIA College of Fellows)
An architect dedicated to materials research and education, Blaine Brownell has deeply influenced architects’ capacity to evaluate emerging materials and employ new material applications that are technologically, environmentally, and aesthetically innovative.
Throughout his career, Blaine has sought to elevate the quality and sophistication of material practices in the architectural profession. Significant works of architecture often incorporate innovative material practices—using new materials, inventing new uses for existing materials, or both. Yet knowledge about how to adopt such methods has been largely absent from the literature.
In the late 1990s, Blaine initiated an ongoing research effort that has resulted in a number of significant publications as well as related lectures, exhibitions, and courses focused on emerging materials and applications. Now Director of the School of Architecture at the University of North Carolina–Charlotte, Blaine is developing a critical framework for assessing materials’ technological and environmental effects to maximize opportunities for architectural innovation.
New materials are anticipated to bring about unprecedented changes in design, manufacturing, and construction. So-called “advanced” and “disruptive” materials represent new possibilities for architecture, yet few architects know how to assess such materials. Blaine has contributed significant scholarship on emerging material technologies and trends to deepen our understanding of how new materials transform the functional capacity, design potential, and environmental performance of buildings. His four-volume Transmaterial series (2006, 2008, 2010, 2017) catalogs materials that have the most significant potential to redefine our physical environment.
The four books have received broad critical acclaim, selling nearly 40,000 copies to date. The Royal Institute of British Architects nominated Transmaterial for an international book award in 2007, and the American Society of Landscape Architects selected Transmaterial Next as one of the Best Books of 2017. In the Journal of Architectural Education, Franca Trubiano described the work as “truly innovative… Transmaterial will be of interest to all involved in the design arts who seek a greater understanding of emerging materials and to all who are committed to expanding the traditional classifications of materials within the building industry.” (JAE, 2006)
Another fundamental aspect of material knowledge concerns methods: how may materials be applied to achieve innovative outcomes in architecture? Blaine has written several books on this topic, including Material Strategies: Innovative Applications in Architecture (2012), which evaluates the creative implementation of a variety of materials in significant architectural works.
Matter in the Floating World: Conversations with Leading Japanese Architects and Designers (2011) encapsulates the material concepts, methods, and philosophies of some of today’s most renowned Japanese practitioners including Tadao Ando, Toyo Ito, Kengo Kuma, and Kazuyo Sejima.
Hypernatural: Architecture’s New Relationship with Nature (2015), co-authored with Marc Swackhamer, explores the transforming connections between building materials and natural systems.
Blaine also writes a regular column on innovative material applications called “Mind & Matter” for Architect magazine, the official publication of the AIA. Since 2009, he has written over 700 online articles for the magazine, some of which have received over 40,000 individual page views.
Blaine’s work has had a significant quantitative and qualitative impact on the architectural profession and the broader public. To date, Blaine’s eight books have sold over 50,000 copies and received 56 reviews in publications including Nature, The Wall Street Journal, Smithsonian, and The Architect’s Newspaper. Blaine has contributed eight chapters to books on architecture and has written 110 print articles for publications including The New York Times, The London Times, A+U, and Metropolis. Blaine has been interviewed over 70 times, cited over 230 times, and has given 130 invited lectures in 17 countries.
As a result of his influence, Blaine has been invited to participate in many meaningful service activities for the profession, academy, and the broader public and private sectors. He was a founding member of the Advanced Materials Council and has been an advisor to the National Institute of Building Sciences, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, Steelcase, 3M, Panasonic, and the Danish Architecture Center. Blaine has served as Materials + Products Chair for the Vision 2020 Sustainability Council and as a member of the Fulbright Academy of Science & Technology. He has been an editorial board member of the Journal of Advanced and High-Performance Materials, Journal of Architectural Education, and Journal of Contemporary Architectural Education.
In his current role as a professor and administrator at the University of North Carolina–Charlotte School of Architecture, Blaine continues to champion material excellence in architecture at local, national, and international levels.