In the ever-evolving architecture landscape, a paradigm shift is underway—a surge fueled by innovation and a profound commitment to environmental responsibility. As our planet faces unprecedented ecological challenges, architects are steering towards an era of sustainability. “Go Green” is more than just a catchphrase; it is a powerful movement recently gaining tremendous momentum. From individual lifestyle choices to large-scale initiatives, this philosophy advocates a shift toward eco-friendly practices. 

Emerging at the forefront of this movement is the innovative use of sustainable building materials that not only redefine the aesthetic appeal of structures but also contribute to the well-being of our planet. 

Architecture trends: Environmental friendliness materials - Sheet1
Sustainable Materials_©Marcell Viragh Unsplash

The Rise of Sustainable Building Materials

The construction industry has long been associated with resource-intensive processes and substantial waste generation. In response to these concerns, architects are exploring building materials sourced from renewable resources, aiming for zero to minimal environmental impact during extraction and production. (Hashmi & Choudhury, 2016) This effort aligns with the United Nations‘ SDG 12, promoting sustainable consumption and production patterns to minimize the use of natural resources, toxic materials, waste, and pollutants throughout the product life cycle, thereby ensuring the well-being of future generations. (United Nations, 2021)

Architecture trends: Environmental friendliness materials - Sheet2
Sustainable Journey_©Aleh Varanishcha

Are you embarking on a sustainable journey and contemplating materials for your project? Navigating the sea of sustainable materials available today can seem challenging. Here are some key factors to guide you in making informed choices that align with your project’s sustainability goals (Boni, 2023): 

Extraction of Materials: In the quest for sustainable products, scrutinizing their lifecycle is critical. Start at the origin: Where does the material come from? Are they sustainably sourced?

Production Process: Review the manufacturing process, highlighting the incorporation of renewable energy and strategies for minimizing waste throughout the production chain.

Health and Safety Standards: Prioritize materials that ensure consumers’ and producers’ health and safety, ensuring it is free from toxic or harmful substances. Are there tests demonstrating the product’s safety for consumers?

Product Life Cycle: Evaluate the impact of the product on the environment throughout its entire lifecycle. Assess the product’s lifespan, durability, repairability, and disposal methods. Inspect the material’s end-of-life options, investigating its biodegradability or recyclability. 

Packaging and Distribution: Inspect the packaging for recycled or recyclable content. Are there any initiatives to reduce packaging use or enhance sustainability? Evaluate distribution, consider the carbon footprint, and select suppliers dedicated to minimizing environmental impact in transportation.

Social Responsibility and Certifications: Examine the selected company’s dedication to social responsibility, including fair wages, safe working conditions, and community engagement. Additionally, seek sustainability certifications and company recognitions to ensure commitment to environmentally friendly practices.

The modern construction landscape offers a myriad of materials that await consideration. Let us explore a few unique options promising innovative and environmentally friendly solutions for a sustainable future:

Mycelium 

Have you ever wondered if mushrooms could be more than just a pizza topping – perhaps a key ingredient in building materials? 

Designed as part of MoMA’s Young Architects Program, the awe-inspiring “Hy-Fi Pavilion” was constructed in a mere week, utilizing bricks made of organic waste and fungus! Ecovative, in collaboration with The Living and ARUP, constructed the first large-scale structure harnessing mushroom brick technology. (Florian, 2023) As an exemplar of circular design, the pavilion represents a promising future where mycelium could revolutionize construction, offering both environmental and aesthetic benefits.

Hy-Fi Pavilion_©Barkow Photo

Mycelium is the vegetative tissue of a fungus through which it absorbs nutrients below the ground, a.k.a. fungi’s version of roots. (K, 2022) The production process involves a substrate-fungi solution placed in molds for about five days of growth, utilizing agricultural raw materials like straw, grains, coffee granules, and sawdust. (Florian, 2023) 

This self-growing material has a sustainable afterlife, being 100% natural and compostable post-use. (Leet, 2023) Beyond its eco-friendly, low-cost nature, mycelium boasts exceptional fire, thermal, and acoustic insulation properties. However, challenges like structural strength and vulnerability to environmental factors require further research for optimal construction functionality. (K, 2022)

Hempcrete

Step into the future with the “Möbius House,” a captivating minimalistic residence by Antony Gibbons Design. This elliptical house was inspired and named after the Möbius strip and is crafted entirely from hemp bricks reinforced with concrete. (Orsini, 2020)

Möbius House_©Antony Gibbons

Cultivated for millennia, hemp showcases its versatility by repurposing waste to create a carbon-negative building material called hempcrete. (Arch2o, 2022) This revolutionary alternative to concrete is composed of hemp shives, i.e., the inner woody core of hemp plants, water, and lime-based binder. (Constructor, 2019)

Hempcrete performs in an environmentally friendly manner across its lifecycle; it absorbs CO2 in its growing phase, acts as a non-toxic material and insulator when used in construction, and offers recyclability or reusability post-demolition. (Arch2o, 2022)

Though the material lacks concrete’s compressive strength and density, it proves resilient, especially in earthquake-prone areas. (Arch2o, 2022) Concrete still maintains an advantage in load-bearing structures, yet hempcrete can be effectively utilized with a frame made from various load-bearing materials (Beach, 2020).

Ferrock

Let us explore Ferrock, another sustainable alternative to concrete, which, believe it or not, was discovered by mistake! (Souza, 2023) 

Check out this impressive greenhouse, the first complete structure created by David Stone using his groundbreaking invention. The design features robust 8-inch walls and a 1.5-inch-thick roof reinforced with steel and wire. Despite harsh winter conditions, the greenhouse maintains a comfortable temperature, ensuring it never drops below freezing. (McCleery, 2015) 

Ferrock Greenhouse_©David Stone

Ferrock is made from recycled materials such as waste steel dust and silica from ground-up glass. This hardens when exposed to high concentrations of carbon dioxide. The result is a carbon-negative material surpassing Portland cement in strength and flexibility, making it suitable for seismic considerations. (Souza, 2023; Hamakareem, 2022) 

Ferrock is ideal for marine projects due to its chemical inactivity, with the added benefit of sea salt enhancing its strength. Further, it is resistant to oxidation, ultraviolet radiation, corrosion, chemicals, rotting, and rust. Though the material presents economic potential for small projects, its feasibility for large-scale applications may not be viable, as sourcing large quantities of industrial by-products can prove unsustainable. (Hamakareem, 2022; Bonnefin, 2022)

Finite

Sand, often perceived as an infinite resource, drives a multi-billion-dollar trade globally, shadowed by an even more lucrative illegal market. While beach, river, and quarry sands are extensively utilized in construction, desert sand’s smooth and fine grains hinder effective concrete binding, limiting its practical applications. 

Object made of Finite_©Finite

Finite, a sustainable and reusable composite from desert sand, matches the strength of residential concrete with just half the carbon footprint. However, compared to concrete, making this material is simple and does not require extreme temperatures, thus making it an energy-efficient option. It can be molded into various shapes and sizes and colored with natural pigments to suit desired applications. Thanks to its distinctive material properties, Finite can be remolded for multiple life-cycle uses and serves diverse functions, including creating intricate forms and finishes. (Oza, 2023)

Carbon black

In 2022, our planet faced a staggering challenge as global CO2 emissions hit an all-time high at 36.8 billion metric tons. (IEA, 2023) This surge underscores the imperative to curtail greenhouse gas emissions and combat climate change. 

In a world where waste often feels like an inescapable consequence of progress, Carbon Craft emerges as a beacon of ingenuity and environmental responsibility. Crafted from carbon black, a waste product of fossil fuel combustion, these visually striking monochrome tiles defy conventional practices of discarding or incinerating industrial by-products.

A one-square-foot carbon tile is equivalent to preventing twenty-five kilograms of carbon dioxide equivalent emissions! (Carbon Craft Design, 2021)

Tiles Made by Upcycling Carbon Emissions_©Carbon Craft Design

These tiles derive their color from upcycled carbon, mitigating further combustion and locking it into a distinctive decorative element. Seamlessly blending technology with local craftsmanship, the tile-making process encompasses cutting, shaping, joining, filling, and lastly, forming the tile. The result? An economically viable material, upcycling waste products and showcasing superior energy efficiency to mainstream ceramic tiles, all while empowering the artisan community. (Florian, 2023; Carbon Craft Design, 2021; Gattupalli, 2023)

Conclusion

Architectural trends are constantly evolving to meet the demands of our ever-changing world. From structural elements to interior finishes, architects and designers are increasingly prioritizing sustainability and incorporating environmentally friendly materials into their projects. Conventional ideas no longer confine the architectural landscape; instead, it has become a limitless canvas for innovation. Anything can become a construction material fueled by imagination! Each material choice represents a conscious step towards a more sustainable and harmonious coexistence with our planet—a blueprint for a greener future.

References

Arch2O (2022) 5 Projects using Hempcrete as an Environmental Building Material, Arch2O.com. Available at: https://www.arch2o.com/5-projects-using-hempcrete-environmental-material/ (Accessed: 10 November 2023). 

Arch2O (2022) Building with Hempcrete: Build Environmentally, Arch2O.com. Available at: https://www.arch2o.com/building-with-hempcrete-build-environmentally-arch2o/ (Accessed: 10 November 2023). 

Beach, C. (2020) Hemp Sweet Home: 7 Awesome Architectural Projects that Use Hemp – House.mt. Available at: https://blog.house.mt/property/5-buildings-constructed-using-hemp/ (Accessed: 10 November 2023).

Boni, F. (2023) Green Inspector Guide – UGREEN. Available at: https://www.ugreen.com.br/green-inspector-checklist/ (Accessed: 10 November 2023).

Bonnefin, I. (2022). Emerging materials: Ferrock. Australian Leadership Company. https://www.certifiedenergy.com.au/emerging-materials/emerging-materials-ferrock

Carbon Craft Design (2021) What is Carbon Craft Design, Carbon Craft Design. Available at: https://www.carboncraftdesign.com/blog/what-is-carbon-craft-design (Accessed: 10 November 2023). 

Constructor (2019) Hempcrete blocks for construction. Available at: https://theconstructor.org/building/smart-materials/hempcrete-blocks-construction/34234/ (Accessed: 10 November 2023).

Gattupalli, A. (2023, September 19). Crafts against Climate Change: Eco-materials from India. ArchDaily. Available at: https://www.archdaily.com/987512/crafts-against-climate-change-eco-materials-from-india?ad_source=search&ad_medium=projects_tab&ad_source=search&ad_medium=search_result_all (Accessed: 10 November 2023).

Florian, M.C. (2023) 10 Start-ups Creating Innovative and Sustainable Building Materials, from Mycelium Bricks to Water Purifying Tiles. Available at: https://www.archdaily.com/988017/mushroom-mycelium-bricks-and-water-purifying-tiles-10-innovative-and-sustainable-building-materials (Accessed: 10 November 2023).

Hamakareem, M.I. (2022) What is Ferrock in Construction? Available at: https://theconstructor.org/concrete/ferrock-characteristics-applications/565525/ (Accessed: 10 November 2023).

Hashmi, S. and Choudhury, I.A. (2016) Encyclopedia of Renewable and Sustainable Materials. Amsterdam: Elsevier. 

IEA (2023), CO2 Emissions in 2022, IEA, Paris Available at: https://www.iea.org/reports/co2-emissions-in-2022, License: CC BY 4.0 (Accessed: 10 November 2023).

K, N.S. (2022) Mycelium as a construction material. Available at: https://theconstructor.org/building/building-material/mycelium-construction-material/565623/ (Accessed: 10 November 2023). 

Leet, S.K.& K. (2023) Mycelium Materials: The Future of Growing our Homes. Available at: https://www.archdaily.com/985570/mycelium-materials-the-future-of-growing-our-homes (Accessed: 10 November 2023).

McCleery, K. (2015) It may look unusual, but this greenhouse is actually green, PBS. Available at: https://www.pbs.org/newshour/science/building-a-greener-greenhouse (Accessed: 10 November 2023). 

Orsini, F. (2020) Mobius House of hemp bricks and concrete by Gibbons Design: Floornature, Floornature.com. Available at: https://www.floornature.com/architectural-solutions/mobius-house-hemp-bricks-and-concrete-gibbons-design-15363/ (Accessed: 10 November 2023). 

Oza, H. (2023) Finite, Hamza Oza. Available at: https://hamzaoza.com/projects/finite/ (Accessed: 19 November 2023). 

Souza, E. (2023) Concrete Jungles: 6 Cement Alternatives that can Reduce its Impact in Cities. Available at: https://www.archdaily.com/985952/concrete-jungles-6-cement-alternatives-that-can-reduce-its-impact-in-cities (Accessed: 10 November 2023).

United Nations (2021) Goal 12: Sustainable Consumption and Production, UNEP. Available at: https://www.unep.org/explore-topics/sustainable-development-goals/why-do-sustainable-development-goals-matter/goal-12 (Accessed: 10 November 2023). 

United Nations (2021) Issue brief SDG 12 – United Nations Environment Programme. Available at: https://wedocs.unep.org/bitstream/handle/20.500.11822/25764/SDG12_Brief.pdf (Accessed: 10 November 2023). 

Author

Rethinking The Future (RTF) is a Global Platform for Architecture and Design. RTF through more than 100 countries around the world provides an interactive platform of highest standard acknowledging the projects among creative and influential industry professionals.