1. Buildings that
From the crushed shells of limestone to the timber of dead
trees, we already use nature's materials for building. Yet this
pallet of materials could be radically extended.
Scientific American recently featured
mycelium, the root network of
fungus, as a
material of the future.
Mycelium can grow on
little more than wood chips and coffee grounds in very short
periods of time, creating materials with significant structural
Hy-Fi installation in New York,
which consisted of a 13-metre tall tower, was constructed of
challenge, however, might be to design a structure where the
mycelium is kept partly alive and able to grow and adapt.
myco-architecture project, led
by Lynn Rothschild at NASA, investigated this
possibility, imagining habitats which might reproduce themselves
- albeit for colonies on other planets.
2. Buildings that
Cracks in a building's concrete usually spells the beginning of
Water will seep in
and eventually rust the metal reinforcements that hold the
structure stable. But researchers have begun to experiment with
concrete that can heal itself.
One promising method
- currently being developed by a group
Henk Jonkers at Delft University of Technology,
among others - is to embed bacterial spores (like seeds for
bacteria) in the concrete mix.
When water gets in through microscopic cracks, the bacteria are
reanimated. The material literally becomes alive and triggers a
chemical process causing new calcite crystals to grow and "heal"
Using this technique
might add decades or more to the life of a concrete building.
3. Buildings that
Many buildings - especially the
high rise, glassy office towers
found in major cities across the world - are on permanent life
air conditioning systems circulate air to heat and cool rooms.
Of course, it's always an option to open a window to allow
natural ventilation to occur.
But what if the walls
themselves could breathe...?
Hironshi Ishii's group at MIT have developed
materials that can change their shape
in response to water. These materials consist of layers of
bacteria spores (similar to those used in self-healing concrete)
When the material
dries, it contracts and changes shape.
Using this method, they have demonstrated clothing that can
respond to human perspiration. My group have been taking the
first steps to investigate
extending this method to create
whole building membranes which might "sweat" as indoor humidity
Using latex membranes
coated with bacteria spores the material will flex and open
pores - like sweat glands - allowing air to flow through the
walls, for example, when steam builds from a shower or a kettle.
4. Buildings with
We are surrounded by trillions of microorganisms on every
surface of our homes our bodies and in the air around us.
While we spend
millions of pounds per year on antimicrobial cleaners to kill
much of this complex ecosystem, it has been known for some time
those who live near farms may
suffer less from allergies than those in urban environments.
It seems that being
exposed to "good" bacteria helps to build the immune system in
interesting pilot project,
researchers at University College London have begun to
investigate how surfaces in, for example, kitchens can be made
bio-receptive - actually promoting the growth of bacterial which
are known to offer resistance against disease causing bugs.
Soon, we might be
able to eat our probiotic yogurts in probiotic kitchens.
5. Buildings with
Most buildings are constantly absorbing materials and energy,
while returning waste that needs to be taken away and treated at
But new research
suggests that this waste could actually become a source of
energy for a building.
A team of researchers
on an EU
project called 'Living Architecture' is
working to develop a new type of microbial fuel cell, which
takes domestic waste and generates small amounts of power, as
part of a wider project exploring the processing power of
microbes in buildings.
Photograph courtesy of
Living Architecture consortium.
The fuel cells are integrated into bricks that would become part
of the structural fabric of the building as well as being its
The bricks take in
waste water and bacteria convert chemical energy, as the waste
is broken down, into electrical energy.
In this scenario,
your toilet could charge your mobile phone.