Materials are the literal building blocks of architecture. The architectural element defines the stability, permanence, and even scale of the design. Innovation in materials is crucial for technological and design development. Such research and innovation give way to stronger materials, design customization, and more sustainable construction methods.

Once upon a time, many regarded the traditional materials to be brick, stone, and timber. Now the set of concrete, steel, and glass has taken up the traditional mantle. Recent research and new technology development are focused on creating more sustainable alternatives to these materials. They focus on reducing the number of resources used such as water, or changing the source of non-biodegradable ingredients such as cement or plastic.

The following list will cover some of the many upcoming innovations. Many may seem to be ready for design application, but keep in mind that they require years of refinement and strategizing to be made available to the masses.

Hydro-ceramics | Innovation in materials

With the inspiration of biological systems, hydro-ceramic surfaces absorb heat and then cool the air using evaporative cooling. First, it absorbs large quantities of water in the hydrogel pellets and then depending on the outside and surrounding temperatures, it releases the water from the pellets. This effectively reduces inside humidity, as well as temperatures, to up to 6 degrees. The hydrogel polymer can expand and absorb up to 400 times its volume.

Along with the hydrogel pellets, is also a large stretched fabric layer that acts as a water channel between all the units. These hydro-ceramic panels encase the pellets in porous clay layers to support the exchange of water from inside to outside.

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Exploded view of Hydro-ceramic panel_©IAAC Institute for Advanced Architecture of Catalonia

Developed by a team in the Department of Intelligent Constructions of the Institute for Advanced Architecture of Catalonia (IAAC), this system constantly responds to its environment. It only releases water on warm days due to the heat required for evaporation. On the other hand, it releases minimal amounts of water on cool days. They have titled this responsiveness a humidity passive intelligence, which is what makes this system very effective.

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Applications of Hydro-ceramic panel_©IAAC Institute for Advanced Architecture of Catalonia

Green-mix concrete

Concrete is one of the most common materials in the current construction industry, especially in developing countries. This system proposed changing the very ingredients. This concrete is durable, stronger, and more environmentally friendly than market standard concrete. This is due to its use of suitable agricultural and industrial waste products which are recycled into these concrete mixes.

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Green mix concrete_©UiTM Universiti Teknologi MARA

Traditional cement has a high environmental impact, especially with its contribution to air pollution. Waste byproducts such as fly ash, recycled concrete aggregates, and aluminum can fibers are used for production. This use helps reduce resource manufacturing costs and decrease overall waste. Concrete from demolished structures is reused as aggregates in the mixture. And the final component of aluminum can fibers is used since it can be easily processed and chopped to be used as reinforcement.

Developed by researchers at Universiti Teknologi MARA in Malaysia, this system holds great promise due to the wide availability of its base waste materials.

Nanotechnology | Innovation in materials

Nanotechnology has the power to change the way materials act. These materials demonstrate unique properties at the nanoparticle level that do not compare to their micro and macro counterparts. These materials are ground to a much finer level and have a greater surface-to-volume ratio. This allows for more hydration which largely enhances the initial and final strengths. This system is currently available in many materials such as concrete, paints, and cement. This leads to cementitious materials that are finer and stronger than current market offerings while replacing non-sustainable traditional materials.

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Nano-tube structure_©

Nanotechnology benefits the industry by turning industrial wastes into wealth, reduction in environmental contamination, and also adding value to manufactured concrete such as strength, impermeability, workability, and chemical attack resistance. For instance, nano-titania is added to the concrete as a self-healing characteristic. Many such nanoparticles are added to concrete such as Carbon Nano-Tubes, Nano-silica, Nano-titania, and Nano-clay.

Flexible concrete (ECC)

This system is similar to standard concrete but uses aggregates, air, water, and cement. Flexible concrete (Engineered Cementitious Composite) is ductile enough to be bent for shape alteration, even after setting. To make this possible coarse aggregate is replaced by a series of fibers; silica fiber, glass fibers, steel fibers, asbestos fibers, polyvinyl alcohol fibers, etc. Hence, the cement, sand, fibers, water, and Superplasticizer bond to form this tensile alternative.

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Flexible concrete specimen made by Professor Victor Li_©University of Michigan

More resistant to cracking, the flexible concrete is ductile as metal. With its lightweight composition, it also has a great strain capacity, as well as self-healing properties that expand and fill microcracks when in contact with rainwater. However, the material is sensitive to the conditions of climate and skill that it is cast under, which may require supervision.

ECC is currently in use to solve large-scale infrastructural problems in Australia, Switzerland, the US, Japan & Korea. For instance, the Mitaka Dam near Hiroshima was damaged severely with many cracks, spalling, and water leakage. A 20 mm thick layer of ECC was sprayed over a large surface area to create a seamless blockage.

Bio coal Lining | Innovation in materials

Biochar is a carbon-rich soil created when organic materials decompose via heat in an oxygen-deprived environment. This charcoal-like material is the lightweight black residue produced by plant material decomposition like grass, agricultural, and forest residues during renewable energy production. This carbon is highly resistant to degradation and can store a large carbon reserve. Now scientists have used this feature to integrate it into building materials and largely offset carbon dioxide emissions. For each ton of biochar employed in buildings, one ton of CO2 is kept out of the atmosphere.

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Innovation in materials-Made of Air HexChar Panels_©Made of Air

Berlin-based startup Made of Air has innovated a bioplastic material that is carbon-negative in effect. Since it absorbs more carbon than it emits in its lifecycle, it is positively giving back to the environment. These panels have been designed to serve five industries; building facades, furniture, interiors, transport, and urban infrastructure.

Due to the use of sugarcane as a binder, it can be melted and molded like any other thermoplastic. The startup aims to integrate such materials into everyday use so that everything surrounding us, from architecture to furniture, could remove emissions instead of releasing them.

Waste Paper Construction Board

Although many systems on this list utilize waste byproducts as resources, this system uses materials that have been reused many times over. When a paper has gone through multiple reuse cycles, the remaining cellulose fibers become too short to be bound together as a thin sheet of paper. Instead, the Barcelona-based startup Honext treated this as an untapped resource. They collect the waste cellulose fiber and mix it with enzymes and water. Usually, non-recyclable resins are needed to bind such short fibers together. In response, the researchers identified specific enzymes that work to do the same in a stronger and more sustainable technique.

Interior Cladding using Honext Panels_©Honext Material

These fibers are compressed into the shape of a wet board, before going through a drying process. The boards are then suitable for use in interior partitioning or cladding. The process can be repeated endlessly once the material wears out, hence creating a circular cycle of sustainable manufacturing and usage.

Transparent wood (glass)

A feasible alternative to glass is the emergence of transparent wood. Grown from the fast-growing, low-density balsa tree is treated to room temperature, an oxidizing bath that bleaches it of nearly all visibility. The wood is then penetrated with a synthetic polymer called polyvinyl alcohol (PVA), creating a virtually transparent product. This material is estimated to outperform glass in almost every aspect of its role in the construction industry.

Transparency achieved in Transparent Wood_©Journal of Advanced Functional Materials

Glass is a harmful material for its surrounding environments which comes with a high economic and ecological price. Transparent wood is at least 5 times stronger and lighter than glass, as well as being more thermally efficient. It is also safer since it would only bend or splinter instead of shattering.

Researchers from Forest Products Laboratory have collaborated with colleagues at the University of Maryland and the University of Colorado. Their results have made this concept a practical strategy for our future.

Self-healing concrete | Innovation in materials

Standard concrete is very straightforward in how it behaves. As a compressive material, it can withstand major loads. Although incredibly durable, it loses its integrity over the years and exposes the structure to the risk of damage. They are many types of cracks that can occur in concrete, namely settlement cracks, expansion cracks, plastic shrinkage cracks, and shear & flexural cracks. These occur due to factors such as steel rust, weather, thermal stresses, or just faulty design.

Self Healing Concrete Sample_©UCL Engineering

The answer was simple. The basic principle was the integration of capsules that held specific bacteria and nutrients. These bacteria are activated as soon as they make contact with water and fill cracked concrete with new limestone fillings. Another type of Korean capsule holds polymers that react to heat, which causes them to expand into the gaps.

Another solution is a bio-concrete developed by scientists from Worcester Polytechnic Institute. The material holds enzymes that react with CO2 and releases calcium carbonate crystals, a compound with similar properties to concrete. Over a while, it can fix many cracks, up to 1mm per day.


This system is developed as mats that are placed on roofs of houses to make the building sweat. If and when it rain, the mats absorb the water and then release it when the temperature increases, effectively cooling the air. This process extracts heat from the building before the water evaporates in the same way that our bodies work. The special polymer used for this technique is abbreviated PNIPAM, which is protected with a waterproof membrane. This polymer shrinks and adopts hydrophobic properties once the temperature rises about 32 degrees Celsius, which pushes water to the surface.

Although still developing, this material holds a lot of promise. The concept of a mat that is only a few millimeters thick, can end up saving almost 60% of AC electricity during harsh sunshine in June.

FRP Composites

Fiber Reinforced Plastic is a composite material that is made of polymers and reinforced by fibers such as glass, carbon, basalt, aramid, paper, wood, or asbestos. The process usually involves first refining or manufacturing the fibers, which are then bonded to a matrix during molding using the polymers.

Conclusion | Innovation in materials

The development and exploration of material is an important endeavor in the field of architecture. It proves itself necessary for furthering architecture design, and as seen in many on this list, the retention of sustainable methods. Construction is often regarded as one of the many unsustainable processes that humans inflict on the earth, but buildings have become an integral part of our lives. The best step to take now is to consciously design, as well as implement and integrate sustainable approaches while exploring creative horizons.

  1. Bamigboye, G O. Davies, I. Nwanko, C. Michaels, T. Adeyemi, G. Ozuor, O. (2019). Innovation in Construction Materials-A Review. Department of Civil Engineering Covenant University, Ota, Ogun State, Nigeria. Department of Mechanical Engineering, Covenant University, Ota, Ogun State, Nigeria. Available at:
  2. Abeer Samy Yousef Mohamed (2015). Nano-Innovation in Construction, A New Era of Sustainability [online]. Available at:
  3. Aouf, Rima Sabina (2022). Ten future materials that could change the way we build [online]. Available at:
  4. Romanova, Helga (2022). 17 Innovative Construction Materials Changing How We Build [online]. Available at:
  5. Institute for Advanced Architecture of Catalonia (2013). Hydroceramic [online]. Available at:
  6. ScienceDaily (2015). ‘Green-mix’ concrete: An environmentally friendly building material [online]. Available at:
  7. Gupta, Ashutosh (2017). All about Flexible Concrete or Bendable Concrete | Engineered Cementitious Composite(ECC) [online]. Available at:
  8. Brownell, Blaine (2021). The Benefits of BioChar [online]. Available at:
  9. Dezeen. Hahn, Jennifer (2021). Atmospheric CO2 is “our biggest resource,” says carbon-negative plastic brand Made of Air [online]. Available at:
  10. Hitti, Natashah (2020). Honext develops recyclable construction material made of cellulose fibres from waste paper [online]. Available it:
  11. Androff, Amy (2021). Transparent Wood Could Be the Window of the Future [online] Available at:
  12. Boyer, Mark (2012). Swiss Researchers Develop a Roof that “Sweats” to Passively Cool Buildings [online]. Available at:

Vasudha is a student of architecture and design. She enjoys exploring thoughts and concepts about any topic, especially a round of discussion with varying different people. With a sense of sustainability and a touch of building flair, she is ready to take on any project that comes her way.