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Perkins+Will Suggests Alternative Materials to Replace Health-Threatening PVC

When you consider the practical properties of polyvinyl chloride (PVC) - durability, versatility and low price - it is easy to understand how it has become such a common construction material, with applications as roofing membranes, siding, pipes and plumbing, conduit, window frames, window blinds, molding and trim, and fencing. But perhaps it’s time to be more cautious about its use. According to a new whitepaper report by Perkins+Will, "What’s New (and What’s Not) With PVC," in spite of recent advances in plastic chemistry PVC is still responsible for a range of environmental and human health hazards created in multiple stages of its manufacturing process.

Carbon Nanotubes, Kevlar and Spider Silk: Meet the World's Strongest New Materials

Since the advent of the industrial revolution in the eighteenth century, materials experts have been in constant pursuit of the world's strongest materials. From stone to bricks, concrete to steel, innovation in building material has become a crucial element of architectural progression. For decades, steel has been considered the industry leader in building strength with applications in structures of all types. In a recent online documentary, researchers delved into the possibilities for alternatives to the strongest building materials on the market and arrived at some surprising results.

Could spider silk replace steel cables? Could carbon nanotubes become a substitute for rebar? Find out after the break.

IaaC Student Develops 3D Printed "Living Screen" From Algae

"The debate linked to a more responsive architecture, connected to nature, has been growing since the 1960s," explains Irina Shaklova in her description of her IaaC research project Living Screen. "Notwithstanding this fact, to this day, architecture is somewhat conservative: following the same principles with the belief in rigidity, solidity, and longevity."

While Shaklova's argument does generally ring true, that's not to say that there haven't been important developments at the cutting edge of architecture that integrate building technologies and living systems, including The Living's mycelium-based installation for the 2014 MoMA Young Architect's Program and self-healing concrete made using bacteria. But while both of these remain at the level of research and small-scale experimentation, one of the most impressive exercises in living architecture recently was made with algae - specifically, the Solarleaf facade developed by Arup, Strategic Science Consult of Germany (SSC), and Colt International, which filters Carbon Dioxide from the air to grow algae which is later used as fuel in bioreactors.

With Living Screen, Shaklova presents a variation on this idea that is perhaps less intensively engineered than Solarleaf, offering an algae structure more in tune with her vision against that rigidity, solidity, and longevity.

LCD's VULCAN Awarded Guinness World Record for Largest 3D Printed Structure

Guinness World Records has awarded the title of "largest 3D printed structure" to VULCAN, a temporary pavilion designed by the Beijing-based Laboratory for Creative Design (LCD). Made up of 1023 individually printed segments, the structure was 9.08 meters long and 2.88 meters tall, and took 30 days to print and a further 12 days to assemble. The pavilion was on display earlier this month at Beijing Design Week, located in Beijing's Parkview Green retail center.

Courtesy of Laboratory for Creative Design and Beijing Design Week Courtesy of Laboratory for Creative Design and Beijing Design Week Courtesy of Laboratory for Creative Design and Beijing Design Week Courtesy of Laboratory for Creative Design and Beijing Design Week

Researchers Develop Smart Window Coating That Controls Light and Heat Transmission Independently

In an era when both environmental comfort and sustainability are key concerns in architecture, the tendency to cover buildings entirely in glass is among the most criticized and controversial traits of contemporary architecture, as all-glass buildings often guzzle energy thanks to their demanding cooling and heating requirements. Over the years, a number of fixes for this problem have been attempted, including smart glass solutions that allow users to modify the transparency of the window. The problem with this solution, however, is that smart glass is unable to block infrared (heat) transmission without ruining the very thing that makes glass attractive in the first place: its transparency to visible light. That conundrum may soon be a thing of the past, though. As reported by, a team of researchers at the Cockrell School of Engineering at The University of Texas at Austin have developed a new smart window technology that allows users to selectively control the transmission of light and heat to suit their requirements.

Translucent Concrete Animates the Facade of this Abu Dhabi Mosque

By day, the concrete facade of APG Architecture and Planning Group's latest project, the Al Aziz Mosque in Abu Dhabi, features protruding elements of Arabic script spelling out the 99 names of God from the Quran. By night though, the 515 square meter facade is transformed, as the concrete script lights up in the darkness. The effect is made possible thanks to the translucent concrete paneling system provided by German-based manufacturer LUCEM.


Puddle-Free Parking: New Absorbent Surface Swallows Water Instantly

Perhaps the only material on the architectural market known for its "thirst," ultra-porous concrete is being hailed as the future of urban water runoff management for warm climates. The emerging material reached mainstream popularity in recent weeks thanks to a viral video depicting an apparently ordinary car park absorbing an inordinate amount of water; 1.2 million views later, the video has ignited debate on viability and possible uses for water-absorbent concrete. 

Ultra-porous concrete is gaining a foothold thanks to extensive research being conducted by architects and engineers around the world. Known for its rainy climate, daring use of innovative materials and unorthodox architecture, it comes as no surprise that the Dutch city of Rotterdam has embraced water-absorbent concrete for testing.

Courtesy of Rainaway Courtesy of Rainaway Courtesy of Rainaway Courtesy of Rainaway

University of Alicante Develops Self-Healing Polymer

With sustainability top of the architectural agenda, one of the most pressing issues in many designers' minds is how to extend the life of buildings. While the old-fashioned methods of robust materials, adaptable structures and careful maintenance will undoubtedly play a role in this future, one of the biggest advances made in recent years has been the development of self-healing materials. In the past few years, we've seen demonstrations of self-healing asphalt, concrete and metal that could help to significantly improve the endurance of buildings - and now it seems it's the turn of plastics.

This video shows a flexible and transparent polymer created by researchers from the University of Alicante, which after being damaged can re-fuse in just 10-15 seconds to return to its original strength. According to the researchers, the material is also non-reactive, meaning it can perform this party trick even if submerged in water or other fluid - making it suitable for use in difficult environments that might prevent access for human repairs.

The Versatility of Corian, from Countertops to Railings

If there was a most radical decade of the last century, few would come close to topping the 1960s. From the Bay of Pigs to the Beatles, Marilyn Monroe to the moon landing, there was rarely a dull moment. The world of materials was also involved, seeing the invention of a polymer surface of acrylic resin and natural minerals that was easy to clean, scratch resistant, seamless, and hygienic. Better known as Corian, the surface developed by DuPont chemist Donald Slocum in 1967 was a material that met the tough challenges of modern living.

University of Michigan Researchers Improve Solar Panels Using the Ancient Japanese Art of Kirigami

Solar energy is considered by many to be the future of electricity worldwide. Cities from Houston to Mumbai are embracing massive rooftop and rural solar infrastructure, a largely standardized system of fixed panels positioned to optimize sun intake at peak times. Only the most sophisticated adjustable panels which track the sun, however, are capable of absorbing the maximum amount of daylight allowed by the technology, meaning that the average immovable panel loses a significant amount of available energy.

Researchers at the University of Michigan sought to develop a solar energy system that could absorb the most daylight possible while reducing the carbon footprint from production of the panels themselves. The results are surprisingly beautiful: through the application of the ancient Japanese art of Kirigami, a variation of Origami, the researchers were able to capture up to 40 percent more sunlight than traditional panels.

This Improvement to Channel Glass Makes Curved Glass Walls Easier than Ever

A lot of architects love glass. A lot of architects love curves too. The two can be combined, but in most cases this is a highly bespoke and expensive process, with individual sheets of glass being heated in a kiln over a mold created especially to fit the desired curve. Cheaper options are available though, and one common approach is to use smaller sections of flat glass - often a U-shaped channel section - angled to approximate a curve.

But this strategy also leads to a problem: as the desired curve gets tighter, the gaps between the glass segments get more and more apparent and less efficient as enclosure. To address this problem, German designer Holger Jahns has created "c--c," an update to standard U-shaped channel glass which can be fixed together at any angle and create any curve without gaps appearing between the panels.

© Holger Jahns © Holger Jahns By contrast, c--c can easily adapt to a wide range of curves. Image © Holger Jahns © Holger Jahns

3D Printed "Arabesque Wall" Features 200 Million Individual Surfaces

Standing 3 meters (10 feet) tall, Benjamin Dillenburger and Michael Hansmeyer's Arabesque Wall is an object of intimidating intricacy. 3D printed over the course of four days from a 50 Gigabyte file, the piece is a demonstration of the incredible forms achievable with algorithmic design and 3D printing - however with its overwhelming complexity it is also a test of human perception.

"Architecture should surprise, excite, and irritate," explain Dillenburger and Hansmeyer. "As both an intellectual and a phenomenological endeavor, it should address not only the mind, but all the senses - viscerally. It must be judged by the experiences it generates."

Design development. Image © Hansmeyer / Dillenburger © Peter Andrew © Peter Andrew © Victoria Fard

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