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What if our homes were alive? I don't mean smart homes with the disembodied voice of Alexa deciding the setting for your living room spotlights. I mean actually alive—growing, living, breathing and even reproducing. The idea might seem far-fetched, but in the face of a climate crisis, we humans need to think radically about the way we live in and build our environment.
Biology is capable of extraordinary feats of engineering, and the next frontier in building technology might be to make buildings part of nature. Myself and my colleagues at Newcastle and Northumbria universities have set up a new research centre to investigate this possibility. Here are five ways we think the buildings of the future might become living, breathing things.
Shells - Limestone - Timber - Trees - Nature
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. For instance, 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 performance.
The Hy-Fi installation in New York, which consisted of a 13-metre tall tower, was constructed of mycelium bricks. The greatest challenge, however, might be to design a structure where the mycelium is kept partly alive and able to grow and adapt. The myco-architecture project, led by Lynn Rothschild at NASA, investigated this possibility, imagining habitats which might reproduce themselves—albeit for colonies on other planets.
Cracks - Building - Concrete - Beginning - End
Cracks in a building's concrete usually spells the beginning of the end. 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 led...
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