The geological period we currently inhabit is known as the Anthropocene, defined by the substantial human impact on Earth's ecosystems and geology. In contrast, the Symbiocene, a term coined by Australian philosopher and environmentalist Glenn Albrecht, presents a vision of the future characterized by a positive and symbiotic relationship between humans and the natural world. In the Symbiocene era, humans actively collaborate with nature, acknowledging their interdependence with Earth's ecosystems and striving to regenerate and restore the natural environment, thus creating a more harmonious and sustainable world.
Finding effective and valuable solutions for agricultural waste management has been an inspiring challenge for researchers. By-products from monocultures, such as residues from soybean production, corn cobs, straw, sunflower seeds, and cellulose, are often destined for soil composting, used as animal feed, or even converted into energy in order to reduce waste and mitigate the environmental impacts associated with agricultural activities. Sugarcane production, for example, generates a significant amount of by-products, totaling about 600 million tons of bagasse fiber waste from an annual production of two billion tons of sugarcane. This by-product has a promising potential to replace energy-intensive building systems, such as concrete and brick, by providing building materials that combine sustainability and structural efficiency.
Harnessing the power of moldless manufacturing through large-scale robotic 3D printing, research at ETH Zürich in collaboration with FenX AG delves into the use of cement-free mineral foam made from recycled waste. The objective is to build wall systems that are monolithic, lightweight, and immediately insulated, minimizing material use, labor requirements, and associated costs.
The construction industry's future will undoubtedly include "carbon reduction" as a mandatory task. Aside from locally sourced, virgin materials, an increasing number of new materials are becoming available. New materials can be developed in several ways, including low-carbon substitution, recycling, performance enhancement, and 3D printing. New materials will not only be more environmentally friendly and enable new construction methods, but they will also influence the starting point and direction of design concepts, resulting in new buildings with new perceptions and spaces.
Architecture is often an ambitious profession, with many architects hoping to positively contribute to the social life of the communities, create emotional responses, and add moments of delight and solace to our daily experiences. However, market forces have a way of applying constant pressure on this field, often being the deciding factor in many design choices. Costs and economic value are generally a good indicator of how, when, and to what extent certain materials are being used: the standard rule is the cheaper, the better. But materials are only part of the equation. Site labor, management, and design costs are also considered, depicting a complex picture of the balance between the cost of materials and the cost of labor and its effect on the architectural product.
In the architectural conversations we are having in today’s world, conversations on materials are widespread. There is discussion on the viability of concrete in the contemporary context, how timber can be more sustainably sourced, and on how biodegradable materials such as bamboo should be more common sights in our urban environments.
“We should admit nature as an immense multitude of forms, including each part of us, who are part of everything”, says Ailton Krenak, renowned indigenous leader, in his book Ideas to Postpone the End of the World. The culture of native peoples does not understand humanity and the environment as things that are separate or superior to each other, but rather as parts of a whole. Through this particular understanding of the universe, these peoples are led to a sensitive appropriation of the territory, with structuring beliefs that are also reflected in their architecture, raising the very concept of sustainability to another level, since nature is not seen as a resource to be used, it is thought of as part of the community.
It is expected that by 2050, the rapid depletion of raw materials will leave the world without enough sand and steel to build concrete. On the other hand, the cost of building continues to soar, with an increase between 5% and 11% from last year. And with respect to its impact on the environment, the construction industry still accounts for 23% of air pollution, 50% of the climatic change, 40% of drinking water pollution, and 50% of landfill wastes. Evidently, the construction industry, the environment, and the human race are facing several challenges that are influenced by one another, but it is the human being who is at the greatest disadvantage.
If you’ve been avoiding some of the latest news recently, here’s a quick update; European and North American countries have been facing one of the hottest recorded summers in modern history. Discussions over the climate crises have therefore been reignited and so has the role of the design and construction industry in providing solutions that would mitigate the experienced heat effects in our daily lives. While passive cooling solutions have always been used in some parts of the world, where local resources and vernacular builds are adapted to high temperatures, other regions are looking to technological and innovative manufacturing means that would maintain human comfort, aesthetic values, and energy efficiency/ cost.
“Hope for Architecture” is the calling of Clay Chapman and described by him as “a building initiative to address the challenges of an uncertain future.” In truth, “Hope for Architecture” is a masonry and timber technology, reinvented and adapted from antiquity for this moment. Clay and his young family moved to Carleton Landing, Oklahoma fifteen years ago to fulfill a mission: creating a community and explore that technology.
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.