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

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.

Breathe Brick modules are connected via a coupler that aids in collecting particles, protects the cyclone and facilitates module alignment during construction. Image © Carmen Trudell & Natacha Schnider

The Breathe Brick is designed to form a part of a building's regular ventilation system, with a double-layered facade of the specialist bricks on the outside, complemented by a standard internal layer providing insulation. At the center of the Breathe Brick's function is cyclone filtration, an idea borrowed from modern vacuum cleaners, which separates out the heavy pollutant particles from the air and drops them into a removable hopper at the base of the wall.

A Breathe Brick wall can be a structural gravity and lateral load bearing system, while also collecting air pollution into a cleanable hopper at the base of the wall. Image © Carmen Trudell & Natacha Schnider

The system is composed of two key parts: concrete bricks, and a recycled plastic coupler, which both helps to align bricks and creates a route from the outside into the brick's hollow center. The concrete bricks themselves feature a faceted surface which helps to direct airflow into the system, and a separate cavity for inserting steel structure.

Three possible configurations of Breathe Brick walls, starting with the simple double-wall construction where the interior wall provides insulation, while the outer wall provides filtered air into a plenum space between the two walls. The middle image shows the double wall with a window, where filtered air can be brought into the unit through user-operated trickle vents. The third version uses mechanical heating/cooling equipment to condition the filtered air before introducing it to the occupied space. Image © Carmen Trudell

The Breathe Brick can function with both mechanical and passive ventilation systems, as the brick simply delivers filtered air into the wall plenum; this air can then be delivered to the building interior through mechanical equipment or through trickle vents driven by passive systems such as stack ventilation.

The Breathe Brick can work in conjunction with a passive solar chimney to improve efficiency of filtration, and promote distribution of filtered air through the occupied spaces. Image © Carmen Trudell
The Breathe Brick can work in conjunction with a passive conditioning system, such as a geothermal labyrinth and a solar chimney. The Breathe Brick efficiency would be improved when acting in tandem with a ventilation system, and the natural ventilation system would be improved by distributing filtered outdoor air. Image © Carmen Trudell

In windtunnel tests, the system was found to filter 30% of fine particles (such as airborne pollutants) and 100% of coarse particles such as dust. As the entire system is relatively inexpensive, the Trudell posits the Breathe Brick as a way to lower pollution levels in developing countries, where rapid expansion of industry and less stringent environmental regulations often cause problems.

© Natacha Schnider
Prototype of two Breathe Brick modules created by Natacha Schnider & Kate Hajash. Image © Natacha Schnider


Project Leader:
Carmen Trudell (Both Landscape and Architecture / Assistant Professor, Cal Poly San Luis Obispo)

Kateri Knapp, Kyleen Hoover (RPI undergraduate students in Architecture)
Natacha Schnider, Kate Hajash (Cal Poly undergraduate students in Architecture)
Cameron Venancio, Justin Wragg (Cal Poly undergraduate students in Mechanical Engineering)
Jennifer Thompson, Michelle Kolb (Cal Poly undergraduate students in Environmental Engineering)
Tracy Thatcher, PhD (Cal Poly Environmental Engineering Professor, experimental advisor)

Story via Architect Magazine

About this author
Cite: Rory Stott. "This Innovative Brick Sucks Pollution From the Air Like a Vacuum Cleaner" 12 Aug 2015. ArchDaily. Accessed . <> ISSN 0719-8884

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