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10 Unique Alternative Materials Used in Architecture

Changes are inevitable. Things we used a decade ago might not be useful today. Even if it’s resourceful, upgradation happens, and better versions of the same resources evolve. Alternative materials are such upgrades in architecture as we begin the route to sustainability. 

Image source: Istockphoto.com

The alternative materials are here to replace conventional building materials. These materials are new, eco-friendlier, and positively impact global crises. As technologies develop, many alternative materials arise. However, ensure the materials you use are certified and meet the practice specification you follow. 

Read as we list 10 alternative materials used in architecture, along with the significance of these materials and their properties. Understanding the importance of these materials will help implement a sustainable future for future generations.

What are Alternative Materials?

Building materials are vital in the construction of any infrastructure. Conventional building materials usually include concrete, asphalt, brick, aggregates, and other similar components. In contrast, alternative materials are new altered materials used as alternatives to conventional materials.

An alternative material is a collective term for any or all eco-friendly, recycled, and reused materials, which otherwise might end up as trash in landfills. Only the alternative materials approved by the code practices are safe for construction. 

The quest for alternative materials has allowed people to open doors to various options. Some use age-old materials that date back to the paleolithic ages. At the same time, others go way ahead and opt for futuristic materials that seemed impossible even a few decades ago.

Why are Alternative Materials Important?

The conventional materials we use today are obtained from natural resources. Pure materials are used to create them. On the other hand, alternative materials are obtained from renewable, recycled resources. These are easy on the environment and control natural resource depletion.

Here are some reasons why alternative materials are important for a sustainable future,

  • Saves Resources. Alternative materials are either made from renewable resources or recycled materials. Thus the need for a new, virgin resource is drastically controlled.
  • Increase Efficiency. Making alternative materials is way more efficient than conventional materials. Since recycled materials are used, the processing and operating cost of making the material is also reduced. 
  • Cost-effective. The cost used to make a new material from the natural state is way costlier than using recycled ones. Depending on the type of material used, the production cost varies. 
  • Controlled waste production. Since these materials are mostly pre-processed, waste production is controlled. Another main aspect of waste control is the process of recycling itself. As we reuse old materials, waste collection is also drastically controlled. 

10 Alternative Materials Used in Architecture

Now that we know the significance of alternative materials let’s dive into different types of materials available in the market. Here is the list of 10 alternative materials used in architecture. A gradual listing from the traditional alternative materials to the futuristic ones.

  1. Strawbale
  2. Bamboo
  3. Rammed earth
  4. Papercrete
  5. Aluminum
  6. Fiber-reinforced polymer
  7. Glass Fibre-reinforced plastics
  8. Ferrocemment
  9. Shipping container
  10. 3D printed concrete

Let’s discuss the materials in brief.

1. Strawbale

Image source – buildabroad.org

Even though the straws are slender and flimsy on their own, together as a bundle, they do wonders. 

These are great alternative materials as they are eco-friendly, renewable, and easily available. The load-bearing structures built using these materials are famous for their high thermal insulation capacity.

2. Bamboo

Image source – redshift.autodesk.com

As an excellent naturally available tensile material, bamboo anchors itself in the alternative material listing. 

The high compression strength and lightweight nature of the bamboo make them an ideal choice for reinforcement. With the depletion of wood resources opting for bamboo can be a great savior.

3. Rammed Earth

Image source – risedesignstudio.co.uk

Traditional techniques still hold their place in construction. With technological evolution, the process of making rammed earth construction has also evolved. Rammed earth is a great substitute for concrete. They are sustainable, recyclable, and have a very low carbon footprint. 

4. Papercrete as Alternative Materials

Image source – civilengi.com

Papercrete is a sustainable material slowly gaining popularity recently and was introduced into the market as an alternative to traditional concrete blocks. It’s made from repulped paper and Portland cement. It’s relatively lightweight with good sound absorption and thermal insulation. 

5. Aluminum

Alternative materials
Image source – theconstructor.org

Being high in strength yet lightweight makes Aluminum a favorite choice of zero-waste material for many eco-friendly enthusiasts. 

It is widely used in wide-span structures like domes, roofs, and facades. It’s also famous for its corrosion resistance and is often used as a façade material for seashore buildings.

6. Crumb Rubber

Image source – upload.wikimedia.org

The crumb rubbers are recycled rubber from waste tires that otherwise might be dumped in landfills. The scrap tires undergo processing where the metallic components are removed, resulting in granular rubber leftovers. Crumb rubber is famous for its waterproofing properties and is used in building foundations and synthetic floorings for sports fields and playgrounds.

7. Fiber-Reinforced Polymer

Alternative Materials
Image source – livinspaces.net

FRP or Fiber-reinforced polymers are high-performance alternative materials. It is made by combining high-quality polymer resin with fiberglass reinforcement for strength. These are flexible, thin plastic panels that are strong, durable, lightweight, and corrosion-resistant. FRPs reinforce concrete as interior walls, facades, and roof elements.

8. Ferrocement

Alternative Materials
Image source – agpworkshops.com

Ferrocements are great alternatives for reinforced concrete. These materials are made by combining steel mesh with cement. It is a versatile material with a wide scope of work potential due to its durability, lightweight, and low labor-intensity application properties. In construction, they replace the use of both cement and steel. 

9. Shipping Container

Image source – inhabitat.com

These are excellent sources for repurposing leftover containers. The shipping containers make breakrooms, offices, or temporary housing. You can incorporate these containers with plumbing, heating, and electrical services.

10. 3d Printed Concrete

Alternative Materials
Image source – i0.wp.com

These are futuristic materials that seemed impossible a few decades ago. These printers use special concrete, unlike the traditional ones, and don’t require any framework. The technological advancement in these printers allows us to experiment with new building forms that weren’t possible with traditional concrete modules.


As we stand on the edge of the environmental crisis, shifting toward sustainable living is the only way to survive the global demand.

The responsibility for a sustainable future weighs on the shoulders of every individual, be it the architects, manufacturers, investors, or end-users. Optimizing these materials provides opportunities for the industrial development of new materials. 

To sum it up, all we got to say is to unleash your creativity with these alternative materials to understand the untapped potential of these materials. 

Learn about conventional building materials:


By Hajara Banu

Hajara Banu is a professional architect, content writer, and strategist. She is on her journey to share her love of architecture, design, and content creation. Besides writing, Hajara loves coffee and often experiments with cooking and organizing in her free time.

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