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Watershed Materials Hopes to Make Cement-Free Concrete Blocks a Reality

Concrete blocks. Ever since manufacturers developed techniques to make them cheaper than traditional clay-fired bricks, concrete blocks have been one of our most ubiquitous construction materials. However, this ubiquity comes at a price: worldwide, the production of concrete accounts for around 5% of all man-made carbon dioxide emissions, and concrete blocks (as opposed to in-situ concrete or concrete panels) contributes a significant portion of these emissions.

To curb these runaway carbon emissions, a California-based company called Watershed Materials is developing alternatives to the traditional concrete block which uses less cement, dramatically reducing the amount of carbon dioxide produced; they even have a product in the works which they hope will offer a widely applicable concrete block alternative which uses no cement at all.

Sustainable private residence by Arkin Tilt Architects. Image © Ed Caldwell A design using Watershed Blocks by Atelier Hsu. Image © Mark Luthringer A design using Watershed Blocks by Atelier Hsu. Image © Mark Luthringer A sustainable residence by Arkin Tilt Architects using Watershed Blocks. Image © Ed Caldwell

Geometric Paradise: Explore the Realms of Wild Tiling

A photo posted by Fireclay Tile (@fireclaytile) on

What do mathematics and your kitchen backsplash have in common? More than you might think: according to recent findings published in The Guardian, mathematicians have had a breakthrough in the world of pentagons, resulting in a new class of mathematically tiling shape. This newly discovered iteration is capable of continuously tiling a surface without gaps, unlike the majority of its similarly five-sided cousins. Known in mathematics as the most elusive tile shape due to its seemingly endless angular possibilities, the pentagon has been the focus of serious scrutiny for over a century.

With the discovery of the fifteenth type of pentagon last month at the University of Washington Bothell, we've decided to compile a list of the most eccentric and intriguing tiles currently available. Dive into the world of wild backsplashes and unorthodox ceramics after the break.

View Dynamic Glass Raises $150 Million to Create Windows with Responsive Tint

View has raised $150 million to fund their specialized Dynamic Glass tints. The new technology automatically responds to outdoor conditions or from a mobile phone, resulting in a reactive tint that reduces heat and glare. This, as the company said in a press release, allows for "greater occupant comfort and energy savings without ever compromising the view." The tinted windows have been installed in more than 100 locations across North America. The funds will be used to accelerate product development. 

This Innovative Brick Sucks Pollution From the Air Like a Vacuum Cleaner

These days air pollution in some cities is a big problem, and as a result, buildings that help alleviate that problem are all the rage. In recent years though, designers have started to move beyond simply reducing a building's emissions and started to work with techniques that actually remove pollutants from the air, through systems such as Nemesi's "photocatalytic" facade for the Italy Pavilion at the 2015 Milan Expo which captures and reacts with pollution in the presence of light.

However, in most cases these new technologies have been chemical, only affecting the air that physically comes into contact with them. What if buildings could take a more active role in pulling in pollutants from the sky? What if they could work a little more like a vacuum cleaner? This was exactly the inspiration behind the Breathe Brick developed by Carmen Trudell, an assistant professor at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo's school of architecture and founder of Both Landscape and Architecture.

See the Beauty in Programmable Materials in this Mesmerizing Video

In his TED Talk showcasing his work at MIT's Self Assembly Lab, computational architect Skylar Tibbits does an excellent job of explaining the functional possibilities of programmable materials and four-dimensional printing - from structures that assemble themselves in space, to infrastructure that can adapt itself to changes in demand. But there is one property of these materials that he fails to mention: they can be truly beautiful in action.

But in this video by Dana Zelig, a masters student in industrial design at Jerusalem's Bezalel Academy of Arts and Design, the beauty of these processes is placed front and center. Using nothing more than 12 sheets of shrinkable pre-stressed polystyrene taken from children's creativity sets, a home printer and an infra-red light, Zelig's "Traces" project has created a series of self-forming shapes that delicately transform in front of our eyes.

Gramazio Kohler's Robotic Arm Creates an Elegant Twisting Brick Facade

Advances in computers and fabrication technology have allowed architects to create fantastic designs with relative ease that in years past would likely require the labor of countless master craftsmen. Architecture firms like Gramazio Kohler Architects are known for their innovative approach to digital fabrication, adapting technology from a variety of fields. To create this stunning new brick façade for Keller AG Ziegeleien, Gramazio Kohler used an innovative robotic manufacturing process called “ROBmade,” which uses a robot to position and glue the bricks together. 

Courtesy of Gramazio Kohler Courtesy of Gramazio Kohler Courtesy of Gramazio Kohler Courtesy of Gramazio Kohler

This New Brick by MIT-Researchers Uses Little Energy and Helps Deplete Landfills

Traditional Red Bricks. Image Courtesy of MIT Tata Center
Traditional Red Bricks. Image Courtesy of MIT Tata Center

India has one of the fastest growing populations in the world and to accommodate it, a better building material is needed. Currently over 200 billion of the country’s traditional clay fired bricks are manufactured every year, resulting in numerous pollution and environmental problems. To address these issues, a team from MIT –- composed of students Michael Laracy and Thomas Poinot, along with professors Elsa Olivetti, Hamlin Jennings and John Ochsendorf -- has developed Eco-BLAC bricks: an alternative to traditional bricks that reuses industrial waste and is low-cost and low energy. 

Building Elements Come Alive with this Pinecone-Inspired Material that Reacts to Moisture

Reactive materials hold huge potential for architects and engineers in the near future, offering forms of interactive and customizable construction that could, if used properly, seriously alter the way in which people interact with their built environment. The massive expansion in the capabilities of touch screens and other glass based technologies have opened up user interfaces to levels where interactive cityscapes are becoming reachable - but creating materials which are themselves reactive is a much less-explored solution. Water Reaction, a project by Royal College of Art student Chao Chen, is an attempt at exactly that: creating a material that reacts to external conditions with no human input required.

An artificial pinecone proof of concept. Image © Chao Chen The reactive surface when open. Image © Chao Chen The reactive canopy when dry. Image © Chao Chen The reactive canopy when wet. Image © Chao Chen

How Newlight Technologies Creates a Plastic From Air and Greenhouse Gases

The 20th century was an era of unbelievable change, with more revolutionary ideas and scientific developments than perhaps any era before it. But among the many developments in the material sciences, one stands as perhaps the most revolutionary: plastics. An experimental group of materials at the turn of the century, artificial plastics are so ubiquitous now that it's almost impossible to imagine life without them.

However, in the 21st century plastics have gained a bad reputation; commonly produced from oil, plastics are a non-renewable resource and, after spending decades or even centuries polluting our environment, most plastics will eventually degrade to release their carbon into the atmosphere. Recycling plastic will go some way to slow this problem, but with so many modern products relying on plastic - and our tendency toward increasing consumption showing no signs of slowing - recycling can only do so much.

But what if there was a way to use plastics to actually reverse the release of greenhouse gases? That's exactly what Newlight Technologies is attempting to do with their carbon-negative plastic, AirCarbon.

SageGlass Unveils Latest Developments in Smart Glass Technology

With the demands of sustainability today placing tight restrictions on performance metrics such as how airtight a building is, one of the sacrifices that often has to be made is user control. Windows are often no longer openable; shades and blinds often replaced with non-openable louvers. In recent years new technology such as smart glass (sometimes called "switchable glass) has promised a modicum of compromise, allowing windows to be tinted on demand. But smart glass is limited - it's either on or off, clear or tinted.

Until now, that is. At the AIA convention in MaySageGlass revealed a range of innovations that greatly increase the options available to designers when specifying smart glass.

LEGO Invests $150 Million in Sustainable Materials Research

LEGO recently made architecture news with their BIG-designed "LEGO House," a museum and "experience center". Image Courtesy of LEGO Group
LEGO recently made architecture news with their BIG-designed "LEGO House," a museum and "experience center". Image Courtesy of LEGO Group

LEGO has long been recognized by architects as a key inspiration in the world of creative building - but the Danish toy company's influence over the construction industry may be about to get a whole lot more direct. Yesterday, LEGO announced the establishment of its own sustainable materials research center, with an investment of 1 billion Danish Krone ($150 million US), which will search to find sustainable alternatives to the plastic used in their products and packaging.

Introducing Our New Materials Catalog

During the past few months we have been working hard to upgrade our Materials catalog to improve search functionality and user experience. Today we are happy to launch the first of many improvements!

Matter Design's "Helix" Stair Takes Concrete to the Next Level

Exhibited at the BSA Space as part of the Boston Design Biennial in 2013, Matter Design's Helix is a concrete spiral staircase that is full of surprises. Chief among these is its size - the stair was built at half-size to address the practical issues of weight, liability and access - but more important are the details of its assembly. While the steps of most spiral staircases are supported from either the stair's perimeter or a central column, Helix transfers loads directly through the steps below to its base which, rather than resting on the floor as it appears, is in fact suspended from a beam in the ceiling.

Exploded diagram of the casting process. Image Courtesy of Matter Design Diagram of the assembly. Image Courtesy of Matter Design Courtesy of Matter Design Courtesy of Matter Design

Material Masters: The Traditional Tiles of Wang Shu & Lu Wenyu

Wang Shu and Lu Wenyu of Amateur Architecture Studio are known for their distinctly contextual attitudes towards design which prize tradition and timelessness above anything else. In many cases, their use of materials is governed by local availability of salvaged building elements. Tiles, in particular, represent a material used repeatedly by Amateur Architecture studio and for Wang Shu, who won the 2012 Pritzker Prize, they offer a political as well as an architectural message.

Bamboom: Elora Hardy's TED Talk on Bamboo's Exploding Popularity

Perhaps the most surprising thing about bamboo - besides being an entirely natural, sustainable material with the tensile strength of steel that can grow up to 900 millimeters (3 feet) in just 24 hours - is that it's not more widely recognized as a fantastic construction material. Like many traditional building materials, bamboo no longer has the architectural currency that it once did across Asia and the pacific, but the efforts of Elora Hardy may help put it back into the vernacular. Heading up Ibuku, a design firm that uses bamboo almost exclusively, Hardy's recent TED Talk is an excellent run through of bamboo's graces and virtues in construction, showing off sinuous private homes and handbuilt school buildings.

Karawitz's open shell of bamboo. Image Courtesy of Karawitz Architects The Green School in Bali. Image Courtesy of PT Bambu One of Elora Hardy's bamboo bridges. Image Courtesy of PT Bambu The Green School in Bali. Image Courtesy of PT Bambu

Watch These Italian Artisans Create Bubble-Wrap Inspired Glass

For Maya Lapp and Denis Perera, owners of the company Glass MaDe in the Italian town of Belluno, bubble wrap is just about the most everyday material they know. It is the utilitarian material they use to protect their products from damage - yet despite this, it still holds a certain amount of fascination, resulting in their latest project, "Fragile." This video by Studio Meddle shows the making of the project, as the glassmaking duo create a mold of the bubble wrap, cast the glass and finally drape the resulting product over a wrinkled wire mesh to create an almost eery facsimile of the original, subverting our usual expectations of the familiar bubble pattern. Check out Studio Meddle's Video above (make sure the captions are turned on), and see more images of the completed work after the break.

Courtesy of Studio Meddle Courtesy of Studio Meddle Courtesy of Studio Meddle Courtesy of Studio Meddle

Material Minds: The Possibilities Of Ultra High Performance Concrete

Since the beginning of the Modernist era a century ago, concrete has been appreciated by architects for its strength, versatility and sculptural potential. For many countries, concrete played a key role in their recovery from the Second World War, and in their continued modernization during the second half of the 20th century. But in recent years - while it is still as widely-used as ever - concrete has fallen on something of an image problem, with criticisms of its environmental impact and its aesthetic appearance becoming commonplace.

That hasn't stopped some companies continuing to innovate with concrete. Among these companies is TAKTL, a facade panel designer and manufacturer that works exclusively with Ultra High Performance Concrete (UHPC). To find out what UHPC can offer to architecture, ArchDaily spoke to TAKTL about the potential of this material, and the future of concrete construction.

AD Round-Up: 9 Projects That Make Creative Use Of Cor-Ten Steel

One of the most interesting trends in architectural materials of recent years is the increase in use of weathering steel - more commonly referred to by its trademark name, Cor-Ten. Thought the material has been around for decades, first being used for architectural purposes in the Eero Saarinen-designed John Deere Headquarters in 1964, the material has seen a surge in popularity in the last decade or so, being used in everything from individual houses and tiny kiosks, to SHoP's design for the Barclays Center in Brooklyn, which used a staggering 12,000 weathering steel panels.

To celebrate this material we've rounded up nine of the most innovative and striking uses of weathering steel from recent years: Haworth Tompkins' tiny Dovecote StudioFeilden Clegg Bradley Studios' offices and student housing at Broadcasting Place; the perforated facade of IGC Tremp by Oikosvia Arquitectura; the rusted ribbons of Ron Arad's Design Museum Holon; vertical striations on The Corten House by DMOA ArchitectenTony Hobba Architects' Third Wave Kiosk and its corrugated Cor-Ten walls; striking patterned facades in Santiago's Gabriela Mistral Cultural Center by Cristian Fernandez Arquitectos, Lateral Arquitectura & Diseño; weathered facades and louvers in Guillermo Hevia's Ferreteria O´Higgins; and finally the folding garage-style doors of Origin Architect's Refurbishment of the Offset Printing Factory.

Broadcasting Place / Feilden Clegg Bradley Studios. Image © Sapa: Architectural Aluminium Solutions IGC Tremp / Oikosvia Arquitectura. Image Courtesy of Oikosvia Arquitectura Design Museum Holon / Ron Arad Architects. Image © Ron Arad Architects The Corten House / DMOA Architecten. Image © Luc Roymans Third Wave Kiosk / Tony Hobba Architects. Image © Rory Gardiner Gabriela Mistral Cultural Center / Cristian Fernandez Arquitectos, Lateral Arquitectura & Diseño. Image © Nico Saieh Ferreteria O´Higgins / GH+A | Guillermo Hevia. Image © Nico Saieh Refurbishment of the Offset Printing Factory / Origin Architect. Image © Xia Zhi