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The next generation of building materials

By On Aug 17 2016

The next generation of building materials

Some of the original materials we have been using to construct buildings for thousands of years are still in use today. Wood and stone are examples that date back to the dawn of civilization, while brick and mortar go back to the early days of the Roman Empire. But while these standbys still satisfy our needs to some extent, we are always searching for new solutions to the problems we face today. Newer, stronger, and more adaptable building materials are constantly changing the way architects work, and giving them more flexibility and freedom to realize their vision.

Self-healing concrete is just one example. While it looks and behaves like the familiar formula that has been in use for generations, it addresses one of the most well-known and unavoidable challenges of the medium—cracking. New research has found that by including limestone-producing bacteria into the concrete itself, the material will be able to actively respond to the corrosive effect of water, and stop cracking.

Nanotechnology has brought a wide range of materials that have greater durability, flexibility, and are lighter than ever before. Now that we have the ability to custom-design smart materials to suit our needs we are able to do things we never thought possible like make more efficient solar cells and produce completely new and interesting architecture.

Looking to our own biology for inspiration, researchers at ETH-Zurich have found a way to keep buildings cool with minimal energy expenditure. Their new “sweating rooftops” work by absorbing rainwater during storms, and re-releasing it during times of drought, effectively absorbing additional heat from the rooftop’s surface.

Looking elsewhere in nature for architectural insights, Mediated Matter Group’s SILK PAVILLIOIN imagines how one of the most durable substances in existence, silk, could play a role in the building of the future. Using thousands of busy silk worms, the group created a super-flexible, super-strong dome structure that could serve as a model for new natural buildings years down the road.

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about the author

is a founding partner of ZUM3D. She has been working in the architecture/planning/technology fields for over 20 years in NYC. Wendy holds a masters degree in planning and one in architecture and has a BA in Marine Biology.

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