This article serves to introduce the May 2004 issue of MRS Bulletin on Construction Materials: From Innovation to Conservation. By volume, building materials are by far the most widely used type of materials. The most common construction materials-concrete and wood-are paradigms of complex and hierarchical materials, with a microstructure extending quasi-continuously down to the nanoscale. In the past, most improvements have been obtained by modifying the microstructure at the largest scales, for instance, by reducing the macroporosity. Recent advances in our understanding of the interactions and microstructure development show that the major levers for improvement from now on will rely on surface and colloid science and the science of complex materials, often at the nanoscale. This can lead to remarkable properties, such as self-compaction and ultrahigh strength, and even new functionality, such as self-cleaning through photocatalysis. Construction materials face a wide range of challenges today, many of which are linked to the need for more sustainable development: reducing the consumption of raw materials, reducing the energy used in processing, and increasing service life. In many parts of the world, there is also an increasing need to repair, rehabilitate, and conserve old buildings. The articles in this issue touch on these challenges as well as the advances being made in construction materials through materials research.