Take a bucket of hemp, add some mushrooms, a dash of carbon fiber and a splash of high performance plastics. Done? No, I'm kidding. We are not preparing anything to eat: it is a question of "drawing" a picture of the future of construction. Researchers from around the world are working to develop materials that have superior performance, reduce the ecological footprint and improve the aesthetics of buildings. Our construction site is about to get a lot more interesting. Follow me for this recipe :)
From Mother Nature to high-tech laboratories: the materials of tomorrow
Nature has always been an inexhaustible source of inspiration (I'm obsessed with biomimicry and you know it). The building materials of the future are no exception. There hemp and mycelium (the vegetative part of mushrooms) could, indeed: MUST become valuable allies in the pipeline. But there's more: synthetic materials of all sorts, new types of metal, even revisited "plastics": the building industry will have many more strings to its bow. I will briefly tell you a few.
Biochar, from waste to building resource
I told you about it in this article: the one on the so-called "Bio Coal", or "Biochar", is a very promising research field. And we are already starting to see the first applications in the building industry. In Germany, the startup Made of Air has given a new life to agricultural and forestry waste, transforming it into a material capable of also storing carbon. This 'bioplastic of the future', used to make coatings and other objects, not only reduces waste but also contributes to the fight against climate change. His first architectural appearance? A bold Audi dealership in Munich, covered entirely by hexagonal panels called HexChar.
I concrete that changes the rules, reinforced with carbon fiber
Again Germany: the Technical University of Dresden has developed an innovative "reinforced concrete" with carbon fiber wire. Trivially, less is needed to build structures of equal strength. In essence: it is 4 times lighter and 6 times stronger. The pilot project, "The Cube", launched in March (see photo), condenses into 240 square meters a practical demonstration of the great potential of this material.
2DPA-1: The Strongest Plastic of the Future
Among the leading inventions for the building industry we cannot ignore the 2DPA-1. This ultralight plastic created by chemists at MIT (Massachusetts Institute of Technology), is not only moldable like all plastics, but is also twice as strong as steel. After the research phase (find the paper here published in Nature) will be used as a thin coating layer to improve the durability of objects, and may one day have its say as a structural reinforcing material for buildings. But is it recycled? "It should be recyclable," the researchers say. How would you say "should"? "If used as a fiber, it could be trimmed or pressed as we do Kevlar, and in other forms it could be chemically recycled as with nylon." I am not convinced. We'll talk again.
Mushrooms in 3D: Organic Building
The use of mushrooms in construction might seem strange, but it is the closest field of research to finding a practical use. Blast Studio, a London startup, already uses mycelium to make two-metre columns that can be used as load-bearing architectural elements. As? Printing them in 3D, layer upon layer, as if they were any polymer. And there is also a "King" of building mushrooms: the Fomus Fomentarius, a mushroom that has several layers and for this aims to replace plastic, leather and wood. Not bad.
The building renaissance of hemp: it can reinforce concrete
Hemp is one of the most efficient plants at sequestering carbon, and more. A real gift denied and kept away from the thousands of useful applications it can have (except then being at the center of the drug market). More and more projects aim to put it back at the center: from the packaging construction. At the Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in the USA they have been working for quite a while to "hemp rebars", a low-cost, low-carbon solution to replace standard steel rebar. This innovative product not only has a lower environmental impact, but also avoids the problem of corrosion, increasing the life of concrete structures.
Carbicrete: The concrete of the future
From a distance it looks like classic concrete, but the heart of this building material tells us a completely different story. There Carbicrete, a Canadian company, has devised a process that can trap CO2 directly in concrete, generating a product that captures more carbon than it emits. Their secret? Abandoning the classic calcium-based cement, famous for its high CO2 emissions, and replacing it with scraps from the iron and steel industry and carbon captured from industrial plants. This is where prefabricated blocks and panels are born to build a less gray and greener future.
K-Briq: the art of recycling enters the building industry
The engineer Gabriela Medero (pictured), professor at Heriot-Watt University in Edinburgh, has given life to a brick that has the art of recycling in its DNA. Is called K-Briq, and is a small concentration of sustainability made up of 90% construction waste, and (hear, hear) not cooked. A valid alternative to traditional bricks, which the doctor has made available (with a startup founded for the occasion) in a rainbow of colors, both standard and custom.
Chip[s] board and Starcrete: "the patatoni" arrive
Rowan Minkley e Robert Nicoll, two London designers, have transformed potato peels into a resource capable of replacing disposable materials such as MDF and chipboard. The Chip[s] Board, without the use of formaldehyde or other toxic resins, is ready to become the new protagonist in the buildings of the future. I said it, potatoes are beautiful! Started from underground, now they will rise above the earth. And even further: a team of scientists from the University of Manchester has created StarCrete, a material composed of potatoes and dust that is a candidate to become the fulcrum of building... on Mars. If you are curious, we talk about it here.
Green charcoal: the brick with a green soul
The researchers of the Indian School of Design and Innovation in mumbai have developed a bio-brick that not only supports buildings, but also life itself. Composed of earth, cement, charcoal and loofah fibers (the plant commonly used for bath sponges) this brick has natural "spongy" cavities that can house animal and plant life, increasing the biodiversity of cities.
Honext: The cardboard that becomes a brick
Nothing is thrown away, especially when it comes to paper. honest invented a construction board made from paper that has already gone through multiple cycles of reuse. After a certain number of recyclings, the remaining cellulose fibers are too short to be re-bonded and made into paper. And here Honext comes into play, which blends these fibers cellulose waste with water and enzymes to create panels that find their ideal location as internal partitions or coverings.
Even the future of construction seems to come straight out of a science fiction film, luckily of a more "solar punk" than dystopian genre. Between living bricks, hemp and recycled paper, whether they're the buildings of tomorrow or the plot of a new Pixar film, what's certain is that these revolutionary ideas are transforming the way we think about architecture and design, showing that with a pinch of creativity and a large dose of respect for the planet we can build a sustainable and truly innovative world.
What are you still doing here, at the end of this long article? Arm yourself with potatoes, collect your paper scraps and keep your loofah sponge handy: the future of construction is already here, and it could be insanely better.