The Architecture of the future is happening now!

New Material which will change the way buildings will look and perform.

Bricks Grown From Bacteria
A unique biotechnology start-up company have developed a method of growing bricks from nothing more than bacteria and naturally abundant materials. Having recently won first place in the Cradle to Cradle Product Innovation Challenge, bioMason has developed a method of growing materials by employing microorganisms. Arguing that the four traditional building materials – concrete, glass, steel and wood – both contain a significant level of embodied energy and heavily rely on limited natural resources, their answer is in high strength natural biological cements (such as coral) that can be used “without negative impacts to the surrounding environment.”

According to bioMason, “global cement production in 2008 amounted to 2.8 billion tons, with equivalent quantities of CO2 released into the atmosphere”. The energy intensive series of processes, ranging from extracting of the raw material, transportation, and fuel sources for heating kilns, contribute to the fact that “40% of global carbon dioxide emissions are linked to the construction industry.”

“Bacteria, which provide a precise environment to form in combination with a nutrient, nitrogen and calcium source allow for the formation of natural cement in ambient temperatures, taking less than five days to produce a pre-cast material.” bioMason has created a market viable model which involves licensing existing masonry manufacturers to begin growing. The inputs for biocements are inexpensive, globally abundant, and can be sourced from waste byproducts. Rather than being cast in fuel intensive furnaces, the material is grown in ambient temperatures. The water component used to deliver the cementation reagents is recycled in a closed-loop system and reused in the manufacturing process. Furthermore, since biological cements are formed in a different crystalline process than Portland based cements, “recent tests have been successful with seawater.”

Biological Concrete
The future of design requires thinking innovatively about the way current construction techniques function so we may expand upon their capabilities. Sustainability has evolved far beyond being a trend and has become an indelible part of this design process. Sustainable solutions have always pushed against the status quo of design and now the Structural Technology Group of Universitat Politècnica de Catalunya – BarcelonaTech (UPC) has developed a concrete that sustains and encourages the growth of a multitude of biological organisms on its surface.

We have seen renditions of the vertical garden and vegetated facades, but what sets the biological concrete apart from these other systems is that it is an integral part of the structure. According to an article in Science Daily, the system is composed of three layers on top of the structural elements that together provide ecological, thermal and aesthetic advantages for the building.

The biological layer that promotes the plant growth is actually concrete, with a fine tuned cement base that promotes plant growth and is specifically catered to the viability of specific mosses and lichens. Generally, the pH levels of concrete are high. Ideal concrete conditions have pH levels lower than 9, but traditional Portland Cement can have pH levels around 12 or 13, which then needs to be reduced to an acceptable level. These are not the ideal conditions for which researchers at UPC are looking. Instead, they are developing the biological layer of concrete using a magnesium phosphate cement that is slightly more acidic and does not require treatment to reduce its pH levels.

Mosses can thrive in levels of pH as low as 5 – levels that most other plants do not prefer. Limiting the competition by reducing pH levels will likely promote moss colonization. This strategy will lead researchers to develop several types of cement with a variable distribution of pH levels that promotes specific types of organisms to thrive be it moss, microalgea or lichens.

The assembly for this living concrete is composed of three layers on a structural surface. The first layer is a waterproof membrane that protects the structural elements from water penetration. The new biological layer of concrete is applied on top of this layer. This layer absorbs rainwater, acting as a microstructure that retains and stores rainwater. The final layer is a discontinuous coating that permits the entry of rainwater and traps it between the coating and the waterproof membrane. This optimizes the amount of water that is caught within the biological membrane without compromising the structure.

The system’s advantages are numerous. The plants capture CO2 from the air and release oxygen. The layer also acts as insulation as a thermal mass. It helps regulate temperatures within the building by absorbing heat and preventing it from entering the building in hot weather or escaping the building in cold weather.
The material is patented but is still in its experimental phases. Researchers are experimenting with the types of cement that can be used to promote certain species of plant growth. These variations in the facade, both ornamental and ecological, add diversity and color to any facade be it a new building or a renovation.

Story via Universitat Politècnica de Catalunya (UPC). “Biological concrete for constructing ‘living’ building materials with lichens, mosses.” ScienceDaily, 20 Dec. 2012. Web. 6 Jan. 2013.

Organic, Compostable Towers
“It all starts on local farms with waste corn stalks,” says Sam Harrington of Ecovative, who will help build this year’s winning entry for the MoMA PS1 Young Architect’s Program. Hy-Fi, designed by the New York-based firm The Living, will be made of bricks that are entirely organic and ultimately, compostable. A good chunk of that material is corn stalks, stained clay-red with an organic dye from Shabd Simon-Alexander and Audrey Louisere . The rest is mycelium—mushroom roots to you and me—that will hold the corn stalks together as they cohere into a molded shape. The technology, developed by Ecovative in 2007, has so far been used as a packaging material. “But we love the chance to try something bold, and that’s what PS1 is all about,” Harrington says.

“Our project will be the first large structure made of this new material,” says David Benjamin, architect and founder of The Living. “Our organic bricks are exciting because they harness the incredible ‘biological algorithm’ of mushroom roots and tune it to manufacture a new building material that grows in five days, with no waste, no input of energy, and no carbon emissions.”

Benjamin plans to stack Ecovative’s bricks up into somethingTowers1-72DPI that looks like the intersection of three arteries—blown up a few thousand times. At the bottom, the porous blocks enclose a shaded space with seating areas laid with pebbles, grass, and what looks like straw (or corn stalks). At the top, the structure has three cylindrical openings, each with a rim that’s made of the molds used to create the bricks and covered with a reflective 3M film. This non-organic component was chosen for two purposes. One, it will reflect summer light into the naturally cool interior of the structure. The second reason is aesthetic: “We wanted to acknowledge the red brick structures and glass towers of New York City, but then turn them inside out,” Benjamin says.”

Hy-Fi has an end-of-life plan figured out too. Local nonprofit Build It Green will compost the bricks and turn them into fertilizer. “Our design involves working at vastly different scales simultaneously—from cultivating microscopic root structures that bind the bricks together, to redefining global supply chains of building materials,” Benjamin explains.

Wood Based Nanomaterials
Nanomaterial-72DPIA wood-based nanomaterial composed of cellulose nanocrystals and cellulose nanofibrils is being evaluated at the Forest Products Laboratory, in support of a project at the Army Research Laboratory in Aberdeen, Maryland. The material, presumably stronger than Kevlar, is being produced to create clear composites as reinforced glass for clear applications.  US Forest Services has opened a $1.7 million pilot plant in Wisconsin to develop the wood-based nanomaterial, whose future applications may include windshield and high performance glass.

Under development for three years, the material has the potential to be the strongest and optically clearest version of celllulose nano-fibrils.  Because wood is a renewable resource, the Forest Products Laboratory is optimistic that as the material enters the market, it will help reduce fossil fuel consumption and greenhouse gas emissions, while promoting industry growth in rural areas.

Reference: Architect Magazine, Forest Products Laboratory

Building Power Plants
ENDESA Pavilion is a self-sufficient solar prototype installed at the Marina Dock, within the framework of the International BCN Smart City Congress. Over a period of one year it will be used as control room for monitoring and testing several projects related to intelligent power management.

The pavillion is actually the prototype of a multi-scale construction system. A facade composed by modular components, like solar brick, that respond to photovoltaic gaining, solar protection, insulation, ventilation, lighting … The same parametric logic adapt façade geometries to the specific environmental requirements for each point of the building.

From “form follows function” (classic XX century statement) to “form follows energy”. The facade opens reacting to the solar path, being active and becoming permeable towards south, while becoming closed and protective towards north. The behaviour of this skin makes visible the environmental and climatic processes that surrounds the prototype.

Biological Inspired Structures
“Our research integrates computational form-finding strategies with biologically inspired fabrication“, claims the ‘about’ page of MIT Media Lab’s Mediated Matter Group. Though this may sound like run-of-the-mill architectural boasting, you are unlikely to find any more exemplary combination of scientific research, digital design and biomimetic construction than their recently completed Silk Pavilion.

Inspired by the way silkworms weave delicate cocoons from a single strand of silk, the pavilion was created using a base of robot-woven threads wrapping a steel frame, completed by 6,500 live silkworms which were let loose upon this primary structure. Through a combination of careful design of the primary structure and the silkworms’ instinctive preference for darker areas of the pavilion’s surface, the pavilion’s mottled skin finds the mid-point between a scaled-up version of the insects’ own cocoons and a functional space for humans.

The video of the process shows painstaking research into the way silkworms interact with their environment; from testing out different 3D spaces under different ambient conditions, to using minuscule motion tracking equipment to examine the cocoon construction process. These findings then informed the construction of pavilion itself – determining both the path of the CNC machine which wove the panels and the density of the thread which served as the foundation for the silkworms themselves.

Perhaps the most fascinating aspect of the Silk Pavilion is the way it connects the dots between the world of information technology and biology. The research shows how the blind instinct of silkworms is sometimes revealed as almost machine-like: “parallel basic research explored the use of silkworms as entities that can “compute” material organization based on external performance criteria”. This is then mirrored in the use of a CNC machine to construct the 27 panels which make up the primary structure of the pavilion.

Graphene is extremely thin and strong.
What it is: Graphene is a substance made of pure carbon. The carbon is arranged in a honeycomb pattern in a one-atom thick sheet. Another way to think of graphene: Each time we write with a graphite pencil, we are basically making layers of graphene.

How it’s transformative: Graphene has been called a “miracle material” because it’s thin, strong, flexible, conducts electricity, and its nearly transparent. Its potential applications are practically limitless. Graphene researchers won the Nobel Prize in Physics in 2010 for developing the wonder-material and now you can even make it in your kitchen.

Suggested uses: Solar cells, touchscreens, liquid crystal displays, desalination technology, aerospace materials, more efficient transistors, chemical sensors that can detect explosives.

A super water-proof material makes drops bounce.
What it is: A surface textured with extremely tiny cones repels water droplets. The super-hydrophobic surface, created by a team at Brookhaven Laboratory in New York, is unlike other water-resistant materials because it can stand up to conditions of extreme temperature, pressure, and humidity.

How it’s transformative: These surfaces not only don’t get wet, but would stay cleaner since the water droplets carry dirt with them as they roll off (this mimics the self-cleaning properties of nature). The material would be useful for preventing ice or algae build-up or even as an antibacterial coating.



Aerographite is 75 times lighter than styrofoam.

What it is: Aerographite, created by researchers at the Hamburg University of Technology in 2012, is made from networks of hollow carbon tubes. It’s black in color (because it absorbs light rays almost completely), stable at room temperature, and is able to conduct electricity. The material is really strong, but also bendable.

How it’s transformative: The material can be compressed into a space 95% its normal area and then pulled back to its original form without being damaged. The stress makes the material even stronger. This is unique since most lightweight materials can be compressed, but can’t withstand tension. The material can also withstand a lot of vibration, which means it can be used for airplanes and satellites.

Suggested uses: Lighter batteries for electric cars and bikes, more efficient water and air purification systems, aviation, and satellites.

Suggested uses: Coating boat hulls, car parts, and medical devices, car and plane windshields, steam turbine power generators

A bone-like material that’s lighter than water, but stronger than some types of steel.
Jens Bauer at the Karlsruhe Institute of Technology recently developed a honeycomb- structured material that is less dense than water, but as strong as some forms of steel.

“The novel lightweight construction materials resemble the framework structure of a half-timbered house with horizontal, vertical, and diagonal struts,” lead researcher Jens Bauer, said in a statement.

The researchers samples “contained 45 percent to more than 90 percent air, making them extremely lightweight while also withstanding more than 46,000 pounds per square inch of pressure,” according to Technologist.

How it’s transformative: Even though objects made from this material can only be manufactured in the micrometer-range right now, this is the first time scientists were able to produce a material that exceeds “the strength-to-weight ratio of all engineering materials, with a density below 1,000 kg/m3,” the authors wrote in a paper.

Suggested uses: Insulation, shock absorbers, filters in the chemical industry.

Compiled by: Daniel van der Merwe - PPC Cement


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