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8 Innovative Materials Used in Architecture

Innovation is such a crucial thing for mankind. It fills in the cracks and changes the way of our living. From stone-age to the Romans, Industrial Revolution to Internationalism, the construction industry has seen abundant innovative materials. But the grind doesn’t stop here!

The wheel of innovation is moving forward every second, stunning us with unbelievable technologies. After following this wheel for a while, we have listed eight innovative materials used in Architecture.

Innovative materials

1.Self-Healing Concrete

The name is enough to make you understand the bottom line. This innovative material conquers the biggest drawback concrete has, i.e. susceptibility to form cracks.

Self-healing Concrete  –  Image Source: instituteofmaking.org.uk
Worcester Polytechnic Institute  –  Image Source: goodnewsnetwork.org

But how does it work??

A bacteria named Bacillus Pasteurii along with its food (a form of starch) is added to the concrete mixture. And the rest is magic!! Whenever a crack forms and air fills in, the bacteria wakes up and starts consuming the starch. It may creep you out, but the bacteria excrete calcite (a form of calcium carbonate) and make a bond with concrete, thereby filling up the cracks.

Around the globe, there are several types of self-healing concrete being made or under research process. Initially, as the method and material are new, it may cost 3-4 times more than the concrete itself. But if we see in the long run, this material is a huge savior in terms of maintenance, cost, and time.

2. Hydro Ceramic Bricks

What if like humans, our buildings start producing sweat? Don’t disgust yourself; sweating in humans is based on the precipitation mechanism. Areti Markopoulou, director of the Advanced Architecture Group at the Institute of Advanced Architecture of Catalonia says, “When the temperature in our body rises, our cells release humidity to balance our body temperature. That is why we sweat, and this is exactly how the system of these hydro-ceramics performs.”

Hydro-ceramics    –    Image Source: iaac.net
Growth and evaporation cycle of Hydrogel   –  Image Source: wordpress.com
A prototype brick formed by a four layered sandwich   –   Image Source: ascelibrary.org

Initially, the concept was examined on clay, aluminum, and acrylic. The results determined that the porous nature of clay makes it the best material to house hydrogel.

According to Markopoulou, the prototype brick is a four-layered sandwich that contains a base layer, fabric layer, hydrogel “blobs” and the top layer. The hydrogel can absorb water up to 500 times its weight, and later when the temperature rises, this water evaporates. It produces a cooling effect in the building interiors and reduces the temperature up to 6 degrees Celsius.

This initiative can reduce the application of artificial air conditioning, which is a substantial cause of climate change.

3) Cabkoma

Ever wondered, the solution to building damage due to an earthquake can be a 9mm thick thermoplastic carbon fiber composite strand rod?

Ok, let’s simplify!

Komatsu Seiten fabric Laboratory in Japan developed an innovative material called CABKOMA to reinforce buildings against seismic activity. 

But what is CABKOMA?

CABKOMA is a thermoplastic carbon fiber composite, modified in a carbon-fiber core and an outer layer covered with inorganic fiber, infused with thermoplastic resin. Due to the presence of thermoplastic resin, the material can be reformed by heating even after it undergoes hardening.

CABKOMA strand rod   –    Image Source: komatsumatere.co.jp
CABKOMA strands are light in weight and can be carried by hand               -Image Source: komatsumatere.co.jp

A 160m long roll of CABKOMA strand rod weighs just 12kg making it lightweight and easily transportable material. Also, these strand rods have high tensile strength corrosion resistance, excellent durability, and low dimensional change to temperature. An interlocking webbing system is made to transfer the earthquake forces directly to the ground, thereby preventing vibrations in buildings.

Komatsu Matere Fabric Laboratory (fa-bo)     Image Source: komatsumatere.co.jp

The biggest advantage of these rods is that they can be installed on the existing building, which was built without considering seismic forces. But they may not be the most practical solution for some buildings, as the installation requires a good amount of extra space for the wires to connect to the ground.

4.Cross-Laminted Timber

A sustainable material that doesn’t require the burning of fossil fuels during its production. It is [obviously] composed of wood (usually obtained from reforestation) and is likely to be used in structures ranging from small construction to even skyscrapers.

CLT consists of various treated timber boards, stacked on top of one another perpendicularly. This layering provides structural rigidity in both directions adding tensile and compressive strength to the material.

Conventional assembly layup of cross laminated timber – Image Source: researchgate.net
Cross-laminated Timber  –  Image Source: en.wikipedia.org
The Smile by Alison Brooks Architects   – Image Source: archdaily.com

CLT is subjected to slow combustion because it chars, which forms a protective layer while retaining strength. Adding to this, these panels can be entirely airtight if built correctly, stopping the fire from spreading to other parts of the building.

Strength, durability, aesthetics, and sustainability add up, making CLT the concrete of the future. Originated in Europe, this innovative material is now used across the world.

5.Power Generating Glass

Rooftops and terraces can be converted into enormous utility designs or left as it is. But when covered with large photovoltaic panels, they are left with almost zero space for other uses. 

Various companies across the globe have been working to develop homeostatic facades and came up with solar glass which can turn windows into power-generating panels. It can be used in facades, windows, roofs, and skylights simultaneously generating electricity on-site and adding a great aesthetic appeal to the building.

Transparent Solar Panel – Image Source: independent.co.uk
Transparent solar panels transform buildings into power plants  –    Image Source: forbes.com
Murdoch University R&D Greenhouse, Australia    –    Image Source: archdaily.com

Unlike any other glass panel, solar glass contains a transparent solar coating that selectively absorbs and converts ultraviolet and near-infrared light to electricity while letting only visible light through the building. This power-generating glass comes in various ranges, their efficiency depending on opacity which can vary between 50% transparent to fully opaque.

6.Rammed Earth

Rammed Earth Construction dates back to Neolithic Period. Produced by using natural raw materials such as earth, chalk, lime, or gravel, it has been revived as a sustainable building method.

The earliest examples of this technique are parts of The Great Wall of China, Granada Alhambra in Spain, and many other famous buildings that are still standing more than two thousand years later. 

A typical process for prefabricating rammed earth walls – Image Source: greenspec.co.uk

A Rammed earth wall is prefabricated by filling up the framework with a layer of damp earth which includes sand, gravel, clay, and stabilizer. This layer is then compressed into about 50% of its original volume. The whole process is repeated to gradually fill up the frame after which the wood is removed leaving the rammed earth wall.

Rammed earth is an innovative building material of the past, present, and future. It is considered to be an eco-friendly material with an almost zero carbon footprint. Other than that, it is a low-cost technique, as the primary material (i.e. damp soil) is readily available at most build sites.

Rammed earth housing from eco-friendly construction company Hive Earth   –   Image Source: azuremagazine.com
Rammed earth internal walls – Image Source: wsj.com

Buildings with rammed earth construction are low maintenance, pest proof, fireproof, durable, versatile, and provide a decent amount of noise reduction. The construction is mainly based in Ghana and other sub-Saharan areas, gradually attracting attention from other architects worldwide.

7.Transparent Wood

This may sound bizarre, but you can now see through wood!!

The presence of lignin and cellulose is what makes the wood opaque. It even rots and gets eaten by termites. The researchers at the University of Maryland used hydrogen peroxide (commonly used to bleach hair) to make the wood transparent. This material can overcome all the drawbacks of glass and plastic as it is biodegradable, stronger, ductile, and a good insulator.

Comparison between regular wood and transparent wood – Image Source: futuresplatform.com
Transparent wood   –    ImageSource: sci.news.com

The application of transparent wood can be abundant. It can be used in roofs, façade panels, and even as a structural material for some of the photovoltaic devices and solar cells.

8.Plastic Bricks

According to researchers at UNEP, about 300 million tonnes of plastic waste is produced every year, which is nearly as same as the weight of the entire human population.

Nzambi Matee, a material engineer from Kenya founded a way to convert plastic waste into brick blocks. Industrial and consumer plastic waste (such as shampoo and milk bottles, flip-top lids, buckets, ropes, and bags) is mixed with sand, heated at a very high temperature and then compressed into different types of bricks.

Eco-friendly plastic bricks – Image Source: architecturaldigest.in
Plastic chips getting recycled into various types of bricks Source: indianexpress.com
Plastic bricks used in paving driveways Source: architecturaldigest.in

Nzambi claims that this innovative material is five to seven times stronger than concrete. It is a lightweight material that is 30% cheaper than regular bricks. Plastic bricks can be used for building walls, paving driveways, and several other construction needs.

The use of every material relies on the need, location, and type of the building. From Self-healing Concrete to Plastic Bricks, these innovative materials are the new way to revolutionize the construction and material industry in the coming future.

Written by

Ar. Mahima Singh

An Architect by profession and a human by intention, she is trying to make the world a better place. For her, writing is like meditation through which she can put her thoughts out to the world.

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