On materials

“The Carbon to Carbon bond is among the strongest chemical bonds in nature, so these represent, perhaps, some of the strongest materials that will ever be created.” Peter Yeadon’s recent session at PDC2011, Manipulated Matter, was for me one of those unique presentations that you don’t expect coming, but can’t leave alone. Although his presentation was largely void of any actual buildings, his firm’s explorations into cutting edge sciences like biomemetics and nano-technologies was translated into the language of architecture in elegant and intriguing ways. Decker Yeadon is one firm among many designers, scientists, and intellectuals who are creating building solutions that blur the line between invented technologies and living systems.

In simple terms, biomemetics is the science of translating material properties found in nature into useful material applications. Did you know Velcro is one famous example of biomemetics? The Swiss engineer Georges de Mestral created a prototype inspired by the burrs that stuck to him and his dog as they hiked the nearby woods. Although this is one famous example of biomemetics, it is certainly not the usual case that you simply stumble upon new innovations in material advancements.

Peter spoke about four typical modes of delivering new solutions through biomemetics and nano-technologies. The first is mimesis, or basically looking at nature and mimicking the micro structures observed. They also look for innovations through practical application, or emulating the structures of nature directly in a building application. For example they have translated the hydrophobic surface properties of the acacia leaf into a building façade system that sheds water. The third mode that Decker Yeadon invests highly in is experimentation. They are currently testing a homeostatic façade system that can change its own shape in response to environmental stimuli without any power supply at all. Finally, Peter spoke of the importance of speculation as a mode of innovation. To Peter the critic can be as important as the dreamer when it comes to the most abstract advancements.

So what other exciting material opportunities are out there or just over the horizon? Here are but a few:

-Additive manufacturing. Think 3D printing using concrete at the scale of full building components. I think Calatrava already has a few in office.
-Self-healing bio-concrete grows back over its own cracks using encapsulated bacteria.
-Photocatalytic concrete cleans itself and removes pollutants from the air.
-Mortarless, self-fusing “bio-manufactured” bricks made from bacteria, sand, calcium chloride and urea.
-Transparent photovoltaic window glazing.
-Rammed earth. Yep, thanks to new additives such as Aggrebind, a water based, non-toxic, cross linking styrene acrylic polymer, this centuries old building technique is finding new strength and application in contemporary architecture.

What is the future of this new and exciting science? The possibilities are seemingly endless, and we as designers are uniquely poised to envision these applications in actual use. We can implement these systems in built environments. Of course I’m not 100% sure self-healing bio-concrete is going to fit in the $120/sf budget I was given, not sure but just guessing.

2 thoughts on “On materials

  1. Pingback: Le Se Le Bon Ton Roulette | AIA Colorado Emerging Professionals Blog

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