Many of the materials used in construction are similar to those architects have been using for hundreds of years. However, the construction industry uses up a lot of land and resources, and as such is making great efforts to create innovative materials that have the potential to revolutionise the entire industry.

1. Pollution absorbing bricks

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With the threat of climate change ever-present, future architects will constantly be forced to consider the carbon footprint of their structures. How better to reduce a structures contribution towards climate change than by building from pollution-absorbing bricks.

The Breathe Brick was developed by Carmen Trudell, assistant professor at Cal Poly college of architecture and environmental design, and actively pulls pollutants in from the air and releases filtered air. Designed to be part of a building’s ventilation system.

In the center is a cyclone filtration system that separates out the heavy air particles from the air and collects them in a removable hopper.

It basically functions as a vacuum and can be incorporated into a wall with a window or as part of a cooling system, meaning that it can easily be integrated into current construction.

2. Cooling bricks

Another innovative materials that takes the form of bricks are those created by students at the Institute of Advanced Architecture of Catalonia. A combination of clay and hydrogel creates a cooling effect on building interiors that are constructed from Hydroceramics.

The hydrogel in cooling bricks is able to absorb water - up to 500 times its weight - which is then released to reduce the temperature of surfaces and structures on especially hot days. Early testing has revealed that Hydroceramics are able to reduce temperatures within a building by as much as 6 degrees celsius.

Hydroceramics can easily and effectively be integrated into the cooling systems of current building structures, and could revolutionise construction in warmer climates. In fact, with further progress and development, they have the potential to make household air conditioners obsolete. 

3. Self-healing concrete

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Concrete infused with bacteria can actually heal itself. Image source

Dutch civil engineer, Dr. Schlangen of Delft University created plans for a self-healing concrete. The process involves exposes the concrete to heat in order to cause the material to melt and reform as it cools down.

While there are significant benefits to a self-healing concrete, its effectiveness would be limited by the ability to apply heat to it. Dr Schlangen proposed a vehicle that passes induction coils onto roads built from his self-healing concrete as a way to overcome this limitation, potentially saving the country approximately $90 million a year.

A similar alternative, created by Microbiologist Hendrick Jonkers is a self-regenerative bioconcrete. Infused with bacteria, bioconcrete is able to fill any cracks made in its structure with limestone, effectively enabling it to heal itself. Bacillus bacteria, a strain that thrives in alkaline conditions such as concrete, would be placed in biodegradable capsules, as would calcium lactate, the bacteria’s food source. When the concrete cracks, water enters the capsules and splits them open, allowing the bacteria to feed on the lactate and begin to form the limestone that heals the crack.

4. Translucent wood

This innovative material was developed at Stockholm’s KTH Royal Institute of Technology where Professor Lars Berglund claims that translucent wood could be used as a low-cost, readily available, renewable resource for construction.

Ideally used to create windows and solar panels, translucent wood is created by first removing the lining in the wood veneer. The wood is then put through nanoscale tailoring which creates the translucent effect.

Translucent wood has the potential to be mass produced, offering a low-cost commercial resource.

5. Power-generating glass

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Photovoltaic glass generates clean energy for a similar cost of normal glass. Image source

A major development in creating environmentally-friendly construction materials has been the innovation of photovoltaic glass. Building integrated photovoltaic (BIPV) glazing can help buildings generate their own electricity by essentially turning an entire building into one big solar panel.

Companies such as Onyx Solar and Polysolar have developed several types of photovoltaic glass, the two main ones being amorphous silicon glass and crystalline silicon glass.

Both types of photovoltaic glass generate clean energy, but have are suitable for different conditions and placements on buildings. Amorphous silicon glass is the most similar to architectural glass, with some tinting and visible wiring. Approximately 30% of light is let in and it works best in diffuse light conditions or overcast lighting.

In contrast, crystalline silicon glass is capable of generating twice the amount of power and is better positioned in direct sunlight. This makes it an ideal choice for sun-facing structures as its dark photovoltaic squares prevent much light coming through.

Implementing innovative materials into architecture

The process of incorporating these and other new materials is not as straightforward as we would like. Every country, every company, and every project is different, with its own set of rules, protocols and requirements. It will take time, but innovations in construction are constantly being pushed forward by the invention of incredible new materials like this, as well as innovative architecture designs and concepts that place their focus on a cleaner, safer, more sustainable future for the industry.

If you want to explore more ideas like this and put your own innovative thinking to the test, you can take part in any of our open architecture competitions now.

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