Blaine 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. He earned a B.A. in Architecture with a Certificate in East Asian Studies at Princeton University in 1992, and a Master in Architecture from Rice University in 1998. After an early career practicing at architecture firms including NBBJ, Atelier FCJZ, and Takenaka, Brownell was awarded a Fulbright scholarship to conduct research at the Tokyo University of Science Department of Architecture (2006-07), followed by a visiting professorship in sustainable design at the University of Michigan Taubman College of Architecture and Urban Planning (2007-08). Brownell spent the next twelve years at the University of Minnesota School of Architecture (2008-20), where he co-directed the Master of Science in Architecture—Sustainable Design program for four years, was director of graduate studies for five years, and served as interim head for one year prior to joining the University of North Carolina at Charlotte.
An architect dedicated to materials research and education, Brownell has influenced architects’ capacity to evaluate emerging materials and employ new material applications that are technologically, environmentally, and aesthetically innovative. New materials bring about unprecedented changes in design, manufacturing, and construction, yet methods to assess such materials are limited. Brownell 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 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.
Another fundamental aspect of material knowledge concerns methods: how may materials be applied to achieve innovative outcomes in architecture? Brownell has written several books on this topic, including Material Strategies: Innovative Applications in Architecture (2012), which evaluates the creative implementation of various 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. Hypernatural: Architecture’s New Relationship with Nature (2015), co-authored with Marc Swackhamer, explores the transforming connections between building materials and natural systems. Brownell also writes a regular column on innovative material applications called “Mind & Matter” for Architect magazine, the official publication of the American Institute of Architects. Since 2009, he has written over 700 online articles for the magazine, some of which have received over 40,000 individual page views.
Brownell's eight books have sold over 50,000 copies and received over 50 reviews in publications including Nature, The Wall Street Journal, Smithsonian, and The Architect’s Newspaper. Brownell 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. Brownell has been interviewed over 70 times, cited over 230 times, and has given 130 invited lectures in 73 cities and 18 countries.
Brownell 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, the Mayo Clinic, Steelcase, 3M, Panasonic, and the Danish Architecture Center. Brownell 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. Brownell was elevated to the American Institute of Architects’ College of Fellows in 2020.
Explore HIS recent work
Brownell's publication Transmaterial Next catalogues remarkable innovations in material science, from the lightest substances ever made to self-assembling robotic cubes. The book reveals emerging trends and applications that are transforming the technological capacity, environmental performance, and design potential of architecture. Read more →
In their book Hypernatural
Brownell and Marc Swackhamer (University of Minnesota) describe how architects and designers have started to copy nature. The material experts present an international collection of forty-two case studies that illustrate astonishing new applications possible in this rapidly growing field. Read more →
Brownell writes ARCHITECT's Mind & Matter column, which explores the development and application of innovative architectural materials. In his various articles and case studies he discusses recent insights about emerging and sustainable material production and use in the architectural design process. Read more →