While looking to biology in the Bio-Inspired Studio, a classmate and I came to the conclusion that if we joined our research together we would find better answers. We both (in different ways) were looking at expansion and contraction in nature, like you would see in a puffer fish, bat wings, or even your own skin. Our findings broadly lead us to the fact that everything in nature is composed of a mixture of materials that work well in tension, and materials that work well in compression. Different mixtures and configurations of these rigid and flexible materials provide support or even aerodynamic lift when needed and can be condensed in size when they are not needed.
While we are still working on where this research will end up in terms of a design problem, we will be looking to the idea of using mono-materials in architecture. Most of the built environment is composed of many layers of materials, just as nature is, though in the built environment each layer is comprised of pieces that are put together, as well as the layers being put together while nature simply creates them all together, using for the most part only what’s necessary.
To an extent, perhaps some materials could be classified as a mono-material: corrugated cardboard in shipping would be one example. Concrete can also do a lot, providing privacy and shelter in one form (though usually paired with steel). PVC in many applications works as a mono-material; it can be adapted and changed for different applications.
In research, one thing that is commonly stated about mono-materials is their ability to be easily recycled. Recycling one material as opposed to taking apart many and recycling them separately seems to make sense, but perhaps the same care in ability to recycle should be taken into the way the materials are made and transported.
Dr. Frank Ohle, CEO of the STI Group asks, “How can packaging help shape logistics processes to be more cost effective, efficient and environmentally friendly? We focused on these questions when developing the novel material,” when speaking of STI Group’s development of a new mono-material they’ve applied to a product called Cargo Frame. The paper-based material is secure for transport and eliminates the use of pesticides needed when shipping with wood. The mono-material is highly rigid, which then allows the box to instead become a frame which lowers the weight. The material produces less CO2 than other industrial packaging materials, has FSC options, is produced from recycled paper, is reusable, and is also easily recyclable.
Perhaps the built environment can learn from and start to apply these mono-material ideas into buildings.