What Are Biomaterials in Architecture?

What Are Biomaterials in Architecture?

As part of the effort to make the construction sector more sustainable in the face of the climate crisis, the bioeconomy has stood out. While the road to net-zero architecture is still very complex, the emerging shift in culture and general thinking is evident, and innovation seems to be driving this transformation.

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It is in this context that biomaterials arise, that is, building materials derived from living organisms, including plants, animals and fungi. The term that has its origins in medicine has recently been incorporated into design and in 2019 organizers of the renowned London Design Festival named it the material of the year.

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The Elephant Theater Pavilion / Bangkok Project Studio © Spaceshift Studio

In the field of construction, some biomaterials such as wood and hemp can be used in their raw state, while others, such as mycelium and food scraps, are mixed with other materials to then be transformed into useful composites. As a reflection of industry innovation, particularly in biochemistry and bioengineering research, biomaterials offer opportunities to boost the ability to create a truly circular and sustainable way of building for the future. This is because they are biodegradable and store CO2 during their lifetime, thus reducing the carbon footprint of buildings and products. In addition, several studies suggest the considerable benefits of the use of biomaterials in civil construction, not only related to the sustainability agenda, but also for the well-being of users.

In practice, there are numerous examples of buildings that use biomaterials, both in a traditional way and with innovative uses, whether in architectural details or construction methods. In this sense, plant-derived materials have stood out the most. Hemp House, for example, uses cannabis concrete to build its enclosures. Also known as hempcrete, this biomaterial can be molded into fibrous panels, coatings, sheets and even bricks. In addition to it, the Regional House, a center for environmental education in Belgium, is also an example of this application. As with hemp, it is worth mentioning that linen has also been used at different stages of construction, as is the case of the Brass House Amsterdam, in the Netherlands, which uses this biomaterial in the sealing structure to ensure thermal insulation.

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Hemp House / Bach Mühle Fuchs + Ljubica Arsić © Daniel Fuchs
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Regional House / BC architects © Courtesy of BC architects

However, although the bioarchitecture industry offers innovative materials, some of the more traditional ones can also be included in the category of biomaterials. Among them is timber, a very well-known construction method, but which is currently being explored in different ways, such as in the high-rise constructions of the Tamedia Office Building and the Wood Innovation Design Centre. This list also includes bamboo, both from the traditional Indonesian roofs, such as the Kura Kura Badminton Courts, and those with a more contemporary language, as in the case of the House in Mas Nou, Spain. In this line, it is still possible to mention straw as a well-known biomaterial and its different applications, such as the project for Refuge II.

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Tamedia Office Building / Shigeru Ban Architects © Didier Boy de la Tour
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Casa em Mas Nou / 05 AM Arquitectura © Adria Goula
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Refuge II / Wim Goes Architectuur © Filip Dujardin

Finally, it is worth commenting on the vanguard of biomaterials technology, which is the use of fungi for the composition of structural elements. A great example of this is the HyFy Experimental Pavilion built in the MoMA PS1 yard in 2014 using mycelium bricks that grew in less than a week in prismatic molds from shredded corn stalks residues. A technology that is currently being studied and improved. As well as the experimental bricks made from elephant ordure at The Elephant Theater Pavilion, a temporary pavilion set up in France. With a grass-based diet, their droppings are quite fibrous and, when mixed with other agglomerates, form round bricks that are 255 mm in diameter and 50 mm thick, with a vertical opening to fit a steel tube for reinforcement.

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Hy-Fi Pavilion / The Living. Image © Andrew Nunes
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The Elephant Theater Pavilion / Bangkok Project Studio © Spaceshift Studio

In this approach to biomaterials, regardless of material and process, one issue is clear: the current built environment requires more than solid and static materials. It requires materials that can autonomously remodel, regenerating, growing and adapting in response to their environment. That seems like a possible future.

This article is part of the ArchDaily Topics: The Future of Construction Materials. Every month we explore a topic in-depth through articles, interviews, news, and projects. Learn more about our ArchDaily topics. As always, at ArchDaily we welcome the contributions of our readers; if you want to submit an article or project, contact us.

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Cite: Ghisleni, Camilla. "What Are Biomaterials in Architecture?" [O que são biomateriais na arquitetura?] 24 Aug 2022. ArchDaily. (Trans. Simões, Diogo) Accessed . <https://www.archdaily.com/987658/what-are-biomaterials-in-architecture> ISSN 0719-8884

Casa em Mas Nou / 05 AM Arquitectura © Adria Goula

什么是建筑领域的生物材料?

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