The next wave of building materials?
The trend towards using cross-laminated timber for construction is already well under way. It is cheap, simple to use, easy to make, clean, safe, and it looks great.
Natural solutions are becoming increasingly popular amongst designers and architects, so what other materials should we be looking out for in the near future?
Some of the most interesting answers are being provided by David Benjamin’s New York studio The Living which builds full-scale prototypes of what it sees in the future. By applying biology and new materials to design ideas, The Living innovates in the realms of technology, culture and the environment.
Probably the most immediately useful example their work is a variety of bricks which are made of mushroom. By using agricultural waste such as corn stalks, Benjamin managed to make bricks and build a tower purely from a fungus called mycelium. This tower was on display in the courtyard of MoMA PS-1, a contemporary art museum in New York, and the bricks were broken up and combined with food scraps once the installation was complete. The material had returned to the earth within 60 days.
The possibilities for easily-grown, biological bricks are readily apparent, especially in areas of the world where housing needs to be built rapidly. A good example of this is in the aftermath of a natural disaster. Using natural waste products to build what you need on-site is a simpler alternative than shipping in massive pallets of bricks.
The Living has also undertaken another interesting collaboration with Airbus, the global aviation corporation. One of the main challenges every aeroplane designer faces is reducing the mass of the vehicle, thereby reducing fuel consumption and making everything cheaper. If steel parts can be replaced with something else which is both lightweight and strong then everybody is a winner.
Benjamin created a computer algorithm based on the growth of slime mould, one of the most efficient life forms to ever exist. The mould is grown in patterns which allow the design of irregularly shaped plane parts – such as the bits which separate cabins – in a simple way. The potential is quite incredible, as a plane made with a lightweight and mobile interior could be reconfigured in a flash to change the seating layout. You could also re-use some of the saved weight and replace more of the sides or roof with glass, leading to some incredible viewing opportunities.
What is for certain is that cross-laminated timber is not going to be the only new building material to take off in the future. The next wave of construction materials is likely to change how we see the world for the better.