June 22, 2018 Green Living Written by Timea-Laura Tifan
Bio materials
One direction towards responsive architecture and

design gravitates towards is the creation of new and exciting materials that would help create a more sustainable urban fabric. Some of these materials could be considered biomimetic, however, as a trend, these innovations tend to focus more towards incorporation of natural elements within the material, rather than using a standard material and mimicking a shape or process within nature.

One might argue that responsive architecture is an improved and derived version of biomimicry.

Nevertheless, within the past few years, there has been an increased interest in combining physics, chemistry and biology within architectural materials. Some of these examples include the crustic bioplastic casting, bio-cement composites , agar powder plasticity experiments , nanocelulose and wood dust composites , and bio-receptive concrete to name a few [1].

Crustic bioplastic casting provides the opportunity of creation of a “non-toxic, environmentally beneficial” type of plastic through the extraction of the “citin polymers from crustacean shells” [2].

This new material is environmentally friendly and, according to its creator, very versatile in terms of texture and properties. Compared to the bio-cement, this material would probably be best suited within product design, specifically electronics casings [2], however, it deserves mentioning since it is an innovative material using responsive design.

Furthermore, looking at materials that would be more suited and used within the architecture world, examples would include bio-cement composites [3] and bio-receptive concrete [4]. The first being more of an adaptation of existing elements such as brick and concrete blocks, and the latter implying an inclusion of micro-organisms within the changed structure of the traditional concrete.

Bio-cement composites are “architectural prototypes that prepare us for buildings that are more like bodies than machines”. The processes “occur naturally in the city of Venice” [3] where these traditional building materials demonstrate the start of a bio-receptive and nature inclusive possibility.

In extension to this experiment and already naturally occurring phenomenon, a team from BiotA Lab UCL is looking into how the manipulation of concrete pH would provide a living environment for micro-organisms.

According to the conducted research, this “development of a magnesium phosphate based concrete that can host micro-organisms and nurture bio-colonisation allows plant life to thrive on buildings” [3], meaning that through the inclusion of these micro-organisms, the urban fabric could benefit from an increase of plants covering buildings, thus providing the urban landscape with a more sustainable and nature inclusive environment.

Following on the material innovations, nanocelulose and wood dust composites, together with transparent wood are definitely two of the major development in the timber category.

The first material experiments within “new methods of using cellulose [that] will open the doors to novel sustainable architectural practices” [5].

According to the creating team, “cellulose is one of the most abundant material found in nature”, therefore it would be a great reason for why it could be used. Furthermore, the creators imply that the material is “a structural component of plant cell walls which is a renewable and multifunctional source”, strengthening the argument for the use of it [5].

The combination of cellulose and wood dust composites provide a versatile material with a plethora of uses. Even more so, the “combination of recyclability and new end-user opportunities” adds to the positive effects this material could have and further supports the creator’s opinion that cellulose has the potential in becoming the “super-material of the future” [5].

In comparison to the production of nanocelulose and wood dust composites, the process of fabrication for transparent wood is completely different. The latter uses a process that implies “stripping the lignin from wood and replacing it with a polymer”. The effect of this process results in a strong and translucent piece of would that could make it the “future alternative to glass that could create loadbearing windows that do not shatter” [6].

This material, as compared to previous ones, has a slightly different aim. Rather than providing a living organism and a more energy sustainable building element, the material promises enhanced strength. Therefore, one might argue that, even though the translucent wood is undoubtedly an innovative process and a possible new super-material, it may not necessarily fit the criteria of nature responsive architecture.

Furthermore, one might argue that the qualities of one material are more focused on sustainability, as compared to the second which would imply a focus on aesthetics and visual, however, I believe that both materials have as an ultimate goal, to a certain extent, the provision of more nature inclusive materials for the creation of a more sustainable future.

Even though these materials vary vastly in method of creation and inspiration points, they are, undoubtedly the materials of the future and an extensive research into the vast possibilities and powers of nature, as well as the creativity and strength these elements would bring to the future urban fabric.

Furthermore, through material experimentation and testing, one can achieve amazing results and improve the energy efficiency of an urban area, however this is not the only way of creating a sustainable future.

 


This is a guest post written by Timea-Laura Tifan.
 
Timea is an architecture student with passion for the environment. You could say she is an ‘architect who gives a plant’. Throughout her studies, she incorporates nature within her design and strives for a sustainable built environment.

She is excited about nature inclusive architecture and in her free time she runs her own blog. With her roots being in beautiful Romania, she incorporates natural traditional design from home into sustainable solutions for dense urban fabrics.

 


References

[1] The Building Centre London. (2017). Super Material Exhibition. London, United Kingdom. Project 12
[2] The Building Centre London. (2017). Super Material Exhibition. London, United Kingdom. Project 13
[3] The Building Centre London. (2017). Super Material Exhibition. London, United Kingdom. Project 14
[4] The Building Centre London. (2017). Super Material Exhibition. London, United Kingdom. Project 17
[5] The Building Centre London. (2017). Super Material Exhibition. London, United Kingdom. Project 24
[6] The Building Centre London. (2017). Super Material Exhibition. London, United Kingdom. Project 16