Advances in biotechnology and material science are opening new material opportunities, with the potential of fundamentally changing the connection between the built environment and the natural world. Building materials and construction account for 11% of greenhouse gas emissions. The AEC industry can contribute to curbing climate change in the following years, and the re-evaluation of commonplace building materials is one of the most critical steps. Bioengineered materials, which grow, produce energy, self-heal, are the next frontier in biology and material science and potentially a path towards a new kind of architecture. Although innovation in these fields is still far away from mainstream commercial use, it promises to dramatically change the image of the built environment.
Biotechnology: The Latest Architecture and News
The University of British Columbia's Bacteria-Driven Solar Cell Can Produce Energy Under Cloudy Skies
Hailed as a “cheap, sustainable” method of renewable energy extraction, the cell can generate a current stronger than any previously recorded from similar devices. Development of the cell opens new possibilities for typically-overcast regions such as British Columbia and Northern Europe, where the world's first solar panel road debuted in France.
Tallinn Architecture Biennale 2017 have announced the TAB 2017 Vision Competition, offering architects, scientists and artists the chance to define a new urbanity of the Paljassaare Peninsula in Tallinn in the era when no ecosystem is unaffected by human action. The deadline for the one-stage international competition is 25th of April 2017.
In a recent article for 99% Invisible, Kurt Kohlstedt explores how integrating microalgae into buildings can create a dualistic system of living and built, in order to perform services like create shade, generate power, and work with HVAC systems to modulate interior environments.
Projects that utilize such technology include bioreactors that produce oxygen and bio-fuel, a building with a bio-adaptive façade, and a street lamp that filters carbon dioxide from the urban environment.
Could an emergency shelter also provide its users with food? Could we make furniture you can eat? Could you merge furniture and farming into one device?
It’s questions like these that set biodesign studio Terreform ONE (Open Network Ecology) apart from other design collaboratives. Instead of looking at design as finding a solution to solve one problem, their structures and furniture pieces try to tackle many issues facing the planet all at once. Need a structure to house refugees as well as find them a reliable source for protein? Why not build them a home that also acts as a cricket farm?
What if your chair was compostable? That's the question posed by this series of experiments with biologically-produced benches which are not so much manufactured as they are grown. Together, Terreform ONE and Genspace have developed two bioplastic chairs through similar processes: one, a chaise longue, is formed from a series of parametrically-shaped white ribs with a cushioned top; the second, a low-level seat for use by young children, comprises interlocking segments that can be used to twist the chair into different shapes.
"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.
Arup and GXN Innovation have been awarded with the JEC Innovation Award 2015 in the construction category for their development of the world's first self-supporting biocomposite facade panel. Developed as part of the €7.7 million EU-funded BioBuild program, the design reduces the embodied energy of facade systems by 50% compared to traditional systems with no extra cost in construction.
The 4-by-2.3 meter panel is made from flax fabric and bio-derived resin. Intended primarily for commercial offices, the glazing unit features a parametrically-derived faceted design, and comes prefabricated ready for installation. The panel is also designed to be easy to disassemble, making it simple to recycle at the end of its life.
In this video from Zumtobel Group, Jan Wurm of Arup Deutschland GmbH and Lukas Verlage, CEO of Colt International GmbH, discuss the unique technological developments in “Solarleaf,” which recently won first prize in the Zumtobel Group Award’s Applied Innovations category. In addition to functioning as an effective shading system, this façade system uses solar panels to produce energy from algae to provide a new source of sustainable energy.
Architects have been experimenting with the potential of building envelopes for years. Now, Arup has an interesting, Zumtobel Group Award-nominated proposal: the Solarleaf bioreactor. Developed in collaboration with SSC Strategic Science Consult GmbH and Colt International GmbH, this thin, 2.5 x .07 meter panel, when attached to the exterior of a building, is capable of generating biofuel - in the form of algae - for the production of hot water. More efficient than electricity and more sustainable than wood, algae is ideal kindling for producing heat, especially since it can be grown on-site. Moreover, the water in which the algae grows also collects solar energy, providing an additional supply of heat. More details on this sustainable innovation, after the break.
Inspired by the woods of Vermont, a US biotechnology startup have developed a system for using agricultural byproducts with fungal mycelium (a natural, self-assembling binder) to grow high performance insulation. Ecovative Mushroom® Insulation is seen as a viable competitor to plastic foams that can be found in both in packaging and building insulation, for which the project recently won second place in the Cradle to Cradle Product Innovation Challenge.
A unique biotechnology start-up company have developed a method of growing bricks from nothing more than bacteria and naturally abundant materials. Having recently won first place in the Cradle to Cradle Product Innovation Challenge, bioMason has developed a method of growing materials by employing microorganisms. Arguing that the four traditional building materials - concrete, glass, steel and wood - both contain a significant level of embodied energy and heavily rely on limited natural resources, their answer is in high strength natural biological cements (such as coral) that can be used "without negative impacts to the surrounding environment."
“We don’t live in nature any more – we put boxes around it. But now we can actually engineer nature to sustain our needs. All we have to do is design the code and it will self-create. Our visions today – if we can encapsulate them in a seed – [will] grow to actually fulfill that vision." - Andrew Hessel in a recent ArchDaily interview
"Engineering nature to sustain our needs" is exactly what the Glowing Plant Project aims to do. Synthetic biologist Omri Amirav-Drory, plant scientist Kyle Taylor and project leader Antony Evans are working together to engineer "a glow-in-the-dark plant using synthetic biology techniques that could possibly replace traditional lighting" - and perhaps even create glow-in-the-dark trees that would supplant (pun intended) the common street light.
How is this possible? Read on to find out.
BIQ - the world's first algae powered building - is set to be completed in Germany later this month. Built for the International Building Exhibition (IBA) in Hamburg, this zero-carbon apartment complex will sport a bright green facade-cum-algae farm, while its interior proposes a radical new theory on how we will live in the near future.
More about BIQ after the break...
Architecture is bigger than itself.