Our cities are built today in steel, brick, and concrete. For decades, this status quo has been maintained, while the industry promoted a quick and reliable, financially safe way to design where we live. However, with recent advances in technology, technique, materials, engineering, and other constructive systems, the way architects think about material usage has changed. Sure enough, while there are already some alternative materials used today in the general market, here are a few breakthrough materials which capable of changing the entire building structure within the course of time.
The fiber derivatives have come into the scene in fairly recent times, and though their main representatives, carbon and glass fiber, are already well known, there is still a long way to go before their full potential is truly widespread. Fiber is still mainly used to its full effect in study Pavilions and other ephemeral structures, such as the Research Pavilion ICD/ITKE 2016-2017. The lightweight nature of fibers, combined with their high tensile strength, allowed for the use of robotics and parametric design in the building process. Due to the material choice in general, the Pavilion showed forms and building techniques which are soon to be the norm in the industry. So far, fibers have been used in more traditional building systems, but that is set to change quickly with the continuous incorporation of tech in the industry.
2. Structural Insulated Panels
The use of sandwiched panels, incorporating outer layers and a core, is becoming a staple of recent times in architecture. This building system has made it possible for developers at large to think of many variations of the outer and inner layers to provide the most benefits possible. From Aluminum Composite Materials (ACM) and Zinc Composite Material (ZCM), which combine metal with mainly Polyethylene cores to provide for malleable and strong panels, to more traditional panels of wood and wool, this way of building is gaining more and more adepts. Besides ACM, an interesting shoutout is deserved for new Graphite Polystyrene insulation, which combines high energy savings with a strong contemporary soft space-grey look.
3. Organic Materials
While choosing a single organic material to represent in this list is impossible, they have become the source of wonder for some architects in the vanguards of the field. But how can materials which exist for millennia be cutting edge? Well, it’s because of the way they’re used. Architects such as Neri Oxman propose the use of our chemistry, biology, engineering, and design knowledge to incorporate some of nature’s ready-made building blocks to our advantage, creating the new fields of bio-architecture and nanoarchitecture. Pectin, silk, cork, shells, and many more are appearing in the industry. Sure, their use remains extremely restricted to some of the world’s top universities and research teams, but you can already see the impacts of this trend in the growing usage of natural resources such as bamboo, dirt and natural stones, and it’s only going to get stronger with the spread of bio-architecture…
A fairly debatable alternative when first used in architecture, Kevlar is getting back to the hearts of some architects. The material was used in formula 1 and when introduced to architecture in the 1970s, it provided mixed results mainly due to safety. The ‘oldest’ material in this list, in that it has been used here and there for decades, the price tag it holds is a major impediment to its use. However, even if it has these negatives to it, further studies show interesting applications of this synthetic fiber in architecture when mixed with other building mediums. Kevlar is lightweight, easy to integrate into concrete mixes, or used up as a protective sheet and it is ridiculously strong. For example, some variations of it (Kevlar 29) are lighter and as strong as top quality glass fiber, while others, more robust, have been used as protection in structural reinforcements or against seismic activities. Some may call it outdated or a failed promise of the past, but as soon as it becomes more accessible and used properly, Kevlar is set to make a huge comeback.
5. 3D PRINTS
Perhaps the building source that will cause the biggest upset in the industry in recent times, 3D printing allows people to design and build their ideas free of market constraints. But is it actually that gets printed? The most traditional forms of 3D printing come in the ways of Nylon, Polycarbonate, metals, plastics (mostly ABS), resins, and mixes of glass and plastics. However, by introducing air in some of these mixtures, as it has been done to form Aircrete out of traditional concrete, scientists have created ways to use 3D printed materials to insulate large scale buildings, which is now known as Spong3D. Besides, houses in Dubai already prove that it is feasible to build with 3D printing. More than that, these examples show that this new tech and material advancement has come to stay… and to change the way we think and build.