What does the future of architectural materials look like?

With the changing environment, architects and designers must consider the evolution of architectural materials and its uses. Digital building techniques have already made an impact on the built environment, however building materials are being re-evaluated not only for their application but their long term impacts. According to Blaine Brownell, architect and material researcher, he explains the renewed urgency for designers and material engineers to evaluate the connection between nature and technology in order to create sustainable building products. Brownell, author of the Transmaterial book series, shares five new prototypical materials that can reshape the future of architecture and construction.

Green Charcoal
Developed by: Meenal Sutaria and Shreyas More, of the Indian School of Design & Innovation in Mumbai
“The new material is a non-steel-reinforced building block composed of charcoal, loofah fibers, loam, cement, and air—each with its own advantages. The porous charcoal imparts a lightness to the unit while adsorbing air pollutants. The organic loofah strands reinforce the composite, while loam functions as an elastic binder. The loam also maintains a stable pH value conducive to plant growth—enabling the biocompatible, fully recyclable block to support living ecosystems on its surface. Although still in its prototype stage, the module has broad potential applicability in nonstructural partitions and biodegradable landscape walls.”

Developed by: Researchers at Zhejiang University in Hangzhou
“…the lightest synthetic foam is aerographene—a porous, elastic substance composed of carbon nanotubes enveloped in graphene, a form of carbon that is one of the strongest known materials. […] aerographene represents a remarkable achievement in the ever-advancing pursuit of superlight materials. Developed by researchers at Zhejiang University in Hangzhou, China, the substance mimics building-size space frames, albeit in a microscaled three-dimensional matrix supported by relatively little substance.”

Developed by:
 Gert de Mulder
“Dutch product and industrial designer Gert de Mulder developed a way to transform discarded polyethylene bags into modular bricks for construction. She collects and cleans the bags, then places them in a mold and subjects them to compression and heat. The resulting Recy-Blocks are 24 x 12 x 4–6-inch (60 x 30 x 10–15-cm) solid units that retain the colorful patterns from the bags’ previous lives—a visual reminder of an unwanted fate avoided.”

Photo.Synth. Etica
Developed by: Caludia Psquero and Marco Poletto of ecoLogicStudio
“Photo.Synth.Etica, is a bioplastic architectural textile infused with a circulatory network of living algae. Conceived as a visible public facade and installed on the Printworks at Dublin Castle for the 2018 Climate Innovation Summit, the 32 x 7-meter bioactive urban curtain captures one kilogram of CO2 daily—roughly the amount sequestered by 20 mature trees. The algae, which also absorb air pollution, can be harvested later for biomass to produce new bioplastic—thus closing the material loop.”

Programmable Cement
Developed by: Rouzbeh Shahsavri of Rice University
“Recognizing that traditional cement is composed of randomly arranged clay and limestone particles, Shahsavari hypothesized that a more orderly, “programmable” structure could lead to a more effective and efficient material. Introducing to the mix a combination of calcium silicate and ionic surfactants—which are more amenable to orderly arrangements—Shahsavari was able to create regularly arranged seed particles that influenced the surrounding material’s organization. The resulting cement is stronger and less porous, allowing a reduction in the total amount of concrete needed.”

Every building material has its own application and impact within the built environment and the world. Below are more articles on the subject of building materials here on Archinect. 

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