Seven Emerging Materials That Will Change Architecture

Seven Emerging Materials That Will Change Architecture

In an age of rapid technological development, the material proso

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The beginning of civilization as we know it really started with a series of material innovations; the Bronze Age and the Iron Age set us on the path to where we are now, after all. So it makes sense that the history of architecture is also deeply engrained in technological developments of the time. Skyscrapers would have never reached such heights without developments in steel, for example, and façades would have never slimmed down without thin-shell concrete.

In a time that is so buzzing with technological development, we cannot help but salivate a little at the material prospects for architecture that are now emerging. Read on to see what drastic innovations may be transforming the built environment in the near future.

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Self-Healing Concrete

The greatest downfall of concrete — the world’s most widely used building material — is unavoidable cracking caused by exposure to water and chemicals. But recent

Po developments by a team in the Netherlands extends the life of this popular material by infusing concrete with bacterial spores that patch up cracks when water seeps through. This amazing innovation has now begun to be used in real-world projects, including a set of self-healing water tanks in the Netherlands.

The Shimizu TRY 2004 Mega-City Pyramid concept for Tokyo is a proposal so large that it can only be completed with the help of carbon nanotubes; images via Dark Roasted Blend.


Nanotechnology is pushing materials science beyond the limits of what once seemed impossible. When combined with ultra-high-strength concrete, nanomaterials such as Carbon Nanotubes (CNTs) create a material so strong in both tension and compression that steel rebar is no longer needed in construction, therefore expediting the building process. The possibilities don’t stop there. Other developments include ultra lightweight (super-strong) materials as well as another form of self-healing concrete.

This fully transparent solar cell could make every window and screen a power source; via Extreme Techu

Solar Panel Innovations

Nanotechnology could also greatly improve the efficiency of solar panels, making it possible to embed a single panel with a huge array of individual solar cells. This would greatly reduce the cost of the technology, finally making solar energy a viable alternative to fossil fuel. Other explorations in making solar energy cheaper include dye-sensitized solar cells (DSSCs), DuPont’s silicon ink component and fully transparent solar panels that could replace standard glass in windows across the world.

In addition to insulating, Aerogel also has the unique property of being translucent, potentially redefining the “glass house”; photo of Hemsworth Managed Offices (Atkins Architects) via Kalwall by David Jewel.

Aerogel Insulation

Whether it’s climate change or simply daunting energy bills, nearly everyone is demanding more efficient, greener new buildings. Insulation is therefore a hot topic, especially when it comes to aerogel — not only one of the lightest materials available, but also one of the highest insulators (it also held 13 other Guinness World Records in 2011.) Originally developed by NASA, a commercial spin-off has emerged in the form of Thermablok, specifically designed for residential and commercial uses.

Hopefully they don’t actually sweat that much; image via Advanced Science News.

Sweating Rooftops

Though the idea of a “sweaty” building sounds rather … unpleasant … this new material from researchers at ETH-Zurich that aims to make your building perspire is anything but. The rooftop material absorbs water when it rains and only releases it when the heat is raised to a certain temperature. The resulting evaporation will in turn keep the house cool — much like the process of human sweat.

MASS Design’s hospital in Rwanda uses architecture to reduce the risk of disease spreading through the facility. New SLIP materials could also help with the cause in the future.

Slippery Surfaces

Stopping the spread of disease in a confined space such as a hospital is no easy task, involving continuous disinfecting and even the occasional architectural reorganization. But now a team from Harvard is investigating an alternative that would produce a “slippery liquid-infused porous surface” (SLIP) that would let bacteria slip right off. In addition, the material could ward off dust, ice and graffiti, making it a tantalizing prospect to industries outside of just health care.


SILK PAVILION from Mediated Matter Group on Vimeo

Spider Silk

Similar to our obsession with diamonds as the “hardest material on earth,” our fascination with the naturally occurring material of silk never seems to abate. Stronger than steel, weight-for-weight, the super-fine material has the added bonus of being super-flexible. Scientists have long tried to synthetically engineer the material (to give the humble silkworm a bit of a break), with little progress. But a team from from the MIT Media Lab has found a way to control silkworms to do their bidding to create a silk pavilion — basically, printing with worms.

Research all your architectural materials through Architizer: Click here to sign up now. Awwwre you a manufacturer looking to connect with architects? A large crack down the chimney of Corbusier’s La Tourette is a typical challenge that modernist concrete icons pose for preservationists. From Walking Through Le Corbusier by José Baltanás (London: Thames and Hudson, 2005), via Metropolis

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Should the Plan for Everglades Restoration include an Element Addressing ‘Sea-rise’

Are we restoring the Everglades just so the ocean can swallow a lot of it back up?

Eighteen years into the multi-billion-dollar restoration of the Everglades, a scientific review committee called Wednesday for a broad re-examination of future projects in light of the changing climate and rising oceans.

The National Academies of Sciences, which issues a report to Congress every year on the progress of the massive project to restore South Florida’s shrunken wilderness, said conditions have changed since the Everglades restoration was planned in the 1990s.

“There is now ample evidence that the South Florida climate is changing,” stated the latest report. “There is general consensus that temperatures will increase over time, although considerable uncertainty about future rainfall patterns remains. There is also compelling recent evidence that sea-level rise is accelerating. These changes will have profound impacts on the South Florida ecosystem and the related challenges of providing flood protection and meeting future water and recreational demands.”

The restoration of the Everglades is a joint federal and state project to revive what’s left of the River of Grass, filling in canals, removing levees, finding ways to store fresh water and taking other steps to undo some of the damage done over the past century to accommodate farms and cities.

Now, the report says, the accelerating rise of the ocean is striking another blow at the Everglades, although projects in the restoration plan could mitigate the damage.

Ocean water, for example, has already intruded on the edges of the Everglades, causing the collapse of the thick peat soil that underlies its fields of sawgrass. Once the soil collapses, thick stands of sawgrass are replaced by ponds of open water. But more fresh water, which the Everglades restoration is designed to provide, can shore up the peat soil, helping it withstand the attack from the ocean.

“The restoration efforts are likely to have noteworthy benefits that increase the resilience of the ecosystem in the face of climate change, but these benefits have not yet been adequately studied or quantified,” said Bill Boggess, professor of applied economics at Oregon State University and chairman of the committee that wrote the report, in a news release. “With seven large projects to be constructed and three more nearing the end of their planning process, this is the opportune time for a mid-course assessment.”

The South Florida Water Management District, the lead state agency on the restoration effort, issued a response Wednesday that claimed the restoration plan was already being reassessed and revised to deal with factors such as sea-level rise.

Federico Fernandez, chairman of the agency’s governing board, said the agency is “constantly re-evaluating and improving our restoration efforts to account for the latest scientific data, anticipating the impacts of fluctuating environmental factors like sea-level rise and adapting the way we operate these projects to maximize public benefit.”

The report made several other observations about the progress of the restoration work, some favorable, some not.

— “Impressive advances” have been made on water quality, particularly with reductions of phosphorus. An important plant nutrient that has washed off farms for decades, phosphorus must be limited in the Everglades to prevent non-Everglades plants from crowding out sawgrass.

A decade- billion-dollar deal to restore the Everglades historic flow dead (December 17, 2018)

A decade-old billion-dollar deal in which the state would have bought out the nation’s largest sugar cane producer and restored the Everglades’ historic flow is dead.

The South Florida Water Management District voted quietly to terminate a remaining option of the 2008 agreement in which the state would have bought out U.S. Sugar Corp.

Central Florida water management district board member Dan O’Keefe says the decision to terminate the deal was authorized by a 2016 legislative measure to build a reservoir south of Lake Okeechobee.

The reservoir aims to prevent toxic algae blooms by restoring the Everglades’ historic flow. The decade-old deal had the same intent but it was scaled back during the recession.

The Everglades historically began in Central Florida and flowed south from the state’s largest lake. Today the region south of the lake is Florida’s agricultural heartland, and sugar is the primary crop.

In other news, Sen. Marco Rubio and Rep. Brian Mast are calling on the Trump administration to help speed up construction of the reservoir.

The senator and congressman are raising concerns about an additional study the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is planning after Congress approved the reservoir earlier this year.

Army Corps spokesman John Campbell says the study will not slow the reservoir’s construction.

“At this point we don’t anticipate that this work will cause any delay in the project. Certainly we recognize the importance of this project to the people of the South Florida region and are committed to working with the state to build this project a quickly as possible.”

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Amy Green

About Amy Green

Reporter and Producer

Amy Green covers the environment for 90.7 News. She is an award-winning journalist who has worked as a regular contributor to NPR, PEOPLE, Newsweek, The New York Times, The Christian Science Monitor and other top news organizations. She is a Florida native with a zeal for chronicling the spurts and pains of … Read Full Bio »