Let’s Get Concrete! How Materials and Aesthetics Drive Institutional Change

Candace Jones, Eva Boxenbaum

Research output: Contribution to conferencePaperResearchpeer-review


Scholars emphasize the cognitive or ideational aspects of institutional logics. Less clear is the role of materiality, which is a key aspect of institutional logics, and aesthetic responses to material objects. This study focuses on the introduction of a new building material—concrete— during 1890 to 1939 in the architectural profession. Our findings reveal that how professional logics were enacted drove different process for incorporating concrete as a legitimate building material: in France professional and state logics combined to create regulations that governed architects’ use of concrete whereas in the United States market and professional logics interacted: manufacturers cooperated to create standards for concrete and appealed to architects as consumers. Our findings also illuminate that concrete was legitimated initially by imitation of stone, but this strategy soon de-legitimated not only concrete but also stone. Concrete was perceived as merely imitative and thus inauthentic. For concrete to become a legitimate and widely adopted material, architects had to theorize concrete as unique material with distinctive aesthetic possibilities, which led to new kinds of buildings and new architectural styles. Our study illuminates the key role that materials and aesthetics played within architects’ professional logic and shaped processes of institutional change.

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