Architecting Materials of the Future

Architecting Materials of the Future

Architecture is constantly evolving as new material are discovered and created that could revolutionise the way we think about constructing the functional spaces of the future. We are now more than ever; we are combining raw materials and technologies to produce incredibly innovative components we can use to build structures are free from the traditional restraints of bricks and mortar.

As our future need emerge, architects and scientists have had to adapt their approaches and try to predict what material will be useful in the world of tomorrow. A wetter planet will see the need for substances that can remain dry and global warming could see temperature soar and so habitats will have to incorporate breathable and lightweight elements to them.

There are some things that we will always associate with traditional raw materials; houses are made of bricks, sheds are made from wood and buildings are made from steel. Steel is a material that has been used for hundreds of years to create strong and stable structures and it is an incredibly versatile material. Companies like Armstrong Steel are on the rise and providing a wide array of steel buildings that you can have built within a day. These can be used for everything from a garage to a storage unit. Steel is a material that will continue to be used in the future as it is also recyclable unlike other materials such as plastic.

American engineers have developed a new technique for treating wood by initially boiling it with a mixture of Sodium Hydroxide (NaOH) and Sodium Sulfite (Na2SO3) to eliminate lignin fibres and hemicellulose which is a component of the plant’s cell wall. Once these have been removed the wood is then crushed under heat to create incredibly strong nanofibres. This could completely transform the way wood is used as softer types that are commonly overlooked due to their lack of structural integrity could now be used to great versatility.

Nano wood can also be extremely insulating as the bonded cellulose fibres provide a high mechanical strength and with the potential to up to thirty times more thermal insulation that the best silica aerogels, this innovative material could find great use in cold climates.

Many of the existing building structures today were developed in the age of concrete where this durable and cheap component was considered the ideal material to build with. Fast-forward to today and those buildings are now suffering from damage that if not properly dealt with, can lead to expensive repairs.

Taking inspiration from how the body heals itself, researchers at Binghamton University have developed self-healing concrete using fungi called Trichoderma reesei that acts as a sealant when added to concrete.

When a crack appears in the building, the fungal spores will start to germinate producing calcium carbonate (CaCO3) in response to the leakage of water and oxygen into the crack from exposure to the elements. The spores will completely fill in these cracks preventing structural decay and the best part is that this process is on-going meaning the building will continue to heal itself for many years to come without the need for human intervention.

Plastic is a huge problem today and on-going research into how we can modify these non-biodegradable materials continues. Harvard Scientists, however, have taken a step closer to achieving a smart solution to the problem by creating a bio-plastic made from the shells of shrimp. Influenced by how hardwearing the shells are and by utilising the glucose derivative chitin contained within them they have been able to generate a material that is biodegradable, inexpensive has the strength of aluminium whilst having half the mass.

If mass produced, this could start to reverse the current devastating plastics trend and see a reduction in pollution in the world oceans.

You may have heard of graphene and the buzz surrounding this ‘wonder material’ – well the hype is well-founded. Graphene is a type of carbon that sees the atom arranged hexagonally that overlap to form layers that can slide over each other. The material has impressive strength and is incredibly light and researchers at MIT have been working hard give it 3D real-world applications.

When modelled in a sponge-like fashion the material takes on amazing strength properties, becoming ten times stronger than steel. This is due to the arrangement of atoms allowing for incremental deformation demonstrating outstanding tensile strength.

MIT is optimistic about the future of this super-material’s use in architecture and predicts that it will be one day used to construct bridges and other flexible large structures.

Innovative materials are constantly being developed and this is vital to meet the growing and ever-changing demands of an expanding population and dynamic planet. Architects themselves are now planning the building of tomorrow with these challenges mind and are turning to researchers at the cutting edge to help them. From living buildings to super woods, inspiration is being sought from the most unlikely of places to help create the architecture of the future.




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