Azure explores new and upcoming innovations that will make a positive difference on every scale, from the individual to the city. Here, we look at two new building materials: stronger concrete and biodegradable bricks.
1 Concrete to last a lifetime, by University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee
The average age of more than 600,000 bridges in the U.S., one in nine of which is rated as structurally deficient, is 43 years – about the typical lifespan of a concrete bridge. However, a new type of maintenance-free, waterproof concrete has the potential to last over a century. Civil engineers at the University of Wisconsin–Milwaukee have developed an unusually ductile hybrid concrete called superhydrophobic engineered cementitious composite, which repels water rather than absorbing it and stops most cracks. Ultra-strong polyvinyl alcohol fibres, each the thickness of a human hair, added to the mixture prevent occasional fractures from becoming larger tears. That’s one design innovation that won’t fall through the cracks. – Josephine Minutillo
2 David Benjamin’s fungi-tecture
The prospect of bricks that grow themselves, consuming no energy and releasing no pollutants, was too tantalizing to pass up for architect David Benjamin, principal of New York’s The Living. Hy-Fi, his pavilion installed this past summer at MoMA PS1 in Queens, is made entirely from organic materials – most notably bricks grown from mycelium mushroom roots in moulds filled with cornstalks (a worthless by-product), then dried into blocks that resemble Styrofoam.
“Each brick grows in about five days, with no energy or sunlight required,” says Benjamin, “so it generates no waste and no carbon emissions.” Mycelium has been used in product design and architectural concepts before (project collaborator Ecovative produces an entire line of packing materials made from the stuff), but it has never been realized at this scale. “This is just the beginning,” says Benjamin. “We should be able to generate biological materials with a wide range of physical properties, including those that self-heal and change in response to their environment. The only limit is our imaginations.” – David Dick-Agnew