Recent discussions in a Bio Inspired design studio have reminded me of a material topic I have been enthused by since I discovered its existence. I’d like to use this week’s blog post to highlight a recent and promising material design strategy of creating architectural materials at temperatures that do not require the addition of heat. In both successes and failures, this typology of material manufacturing strategies’ represents a significant shift in approach from methods common since the industrial era. At its core, the practice of making materials without introducing large amounts of heat to the process, deals with reimagining the procedures’ and matter which will eventually constitute the physical content of our built environment.
In certain cases, the creation of material literally involves the controlled growing of biological matter as can be seen in the work of Mitchell Joachim and TERREFORM ONE in the Fab Tree Hab Village project where scaffolding and controlled grafting are used to create designed shelter made of living organisms.1
More significant to the growing body of room temperature materials, are those endeavors that carefully study biological processes, understand their recipe for material creation, and interpret that process in a manner that is relevant enough to today’s building practices that the end material product holds potential for impact on a large scale. Three distinct entrepreneurial and research endeavors, each at a different stage in the development of material innovation, highlight this concept.
Assistant Professor of Architecture at the American University of Sharjah, in the United Arab Emirates, Ginger Krieg Dosiers project, “Biomanufactured Brick”2 ,was the 2010 winner of Metropolis Magazine’s Next Generation design competition.3 In lab tests, using a chemical process involving sand, bacteria, calcium chloride, and urea, Dosier was able to create miniature sized bricks with physical characteristics and structural properties ranging from sandstone to fired-clay brick.4 Though in a developmental stage, this method for structural bricks has immense potential to reduce humans planetary footprint and provide new building opportunities for communities with limited industrial capabilities.
In 2008, the company Serious Materials5,6 had completed prototyping and, with significant financial backing, was ready to build a commercial factory for the production of a product they called EcoRock. A product with inspiration to replace the construction industry standard gypsum board, EcoRock uses 85 percent material by-product and only 20 percent of the energy typically used to create gypsum board.With the crash of the building market, Serious Materials has withdrawn all information on the product but a TED talk7 and other news articles remain as evidence of a material innovation waiting in the wings for the right moment to emerge.
In a story of increasing success, the company Ecovative8 and their mycelium based packaging product, Ecocradle, has grown in scope since 2008, winning increasing grants and production contracts9they are making significant strides towards their goal of eliminating the need for harmful Styrofoam products. With continued research and exploration, Ecovative is expanding their grown material concept to a range of biologically friendly building products.
Whether failures, or success’, the strategy of designing materials which can be created with a process using low or no heat, will increasingly impact the field of architecture. With traditional energy use a progressively more heightened issue, this material strategy is a necessary shift in thinking required to effectively meet future design challenges.