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Natural living:
Future materials for architecture and design

Troldtekt - holistic solutions for interior constructions
Interior construction: Requirements for sustainability and fire protection require integrated solutions such as acoustic panels made of cement-bonded wood wool without chemical additives. Photo: Troldtekt

Who says, that stones and concrete are the only construction materials that can be used for homes and that, generally speaking, furniture have to be made from wood or conventional plastic? We will take a look at the possible construction materials for sustainable architecture, interior design and interior design of tomorrow.

How to manage the available resources on the planet, process raw materials and use waste products – these are questions that are set to be an increasingly important focus of interest already today. This applies also to architecture and design, too, because construction projects are moving ahead at an accelerating speed because of the world’s constantly growing population and the trend for urbanisation – which means more resources are being consumed. A reorientation from consuming resources to using them is therefore urgently needed in material-intensive sectors in particular. Upcycling and biofabrication are keywords here whose importance is growing.

Bricks made from sand

BioBrick by BioMason - claybricks made out of sand
Sand, bacteria and a little time: That is how the resource-saving claybricks BioBrick are made.
Photo: bioMASON

It may be true that bricks are generally produced from natural materials such as loam or clay. However, this involves extracting resources from the earth and burning them to create construction materials, consuming considerable amounts of energy in the process. According to estimates, this releases around 800 million tonnes of CO2 emissions from fossil fuels each year. American architecture professor Ginger Krieg Dosier (bioMASON) has set out to create bricks from sand and time alone. She gets some help along the way from special bacteria. When a watery solution is added, the grains of sand grow together at room temperature to form bricks – entirely without chemicals and without using fossil fuels.

Bacteria can also be useful in finished buildings. As concrete is exposed to extreme pressure and high tensile loads, there is a constant need for extensive refurbishment of infrastructure. Following years of research, a self-healing concrete called Basilisk (WBA) has been developed at TU Delft. After absorbing water, the bacteria excrete calcium carbonate, which forms limestone along the cracks and seals them.

Mortar-less construction

Kramer Produkt Design - bricks for a mortal-less construction
For Lego fans: thanks to the special geometry of the bricks, no mortar is needed to lay bricks.
Photo: Kramer Produkt Design

Professor Andreas Kramer from the University of the Arts (HfK) Bremen has found another way to optimise the use of materials. The special geometry of the bricks in his innovative dry-wall system (kramerDesign) means no mortar is required to lay bricks. Wall structures can simply be put together like Lego bricks. The bricks have high dimensional accuracy, ensuring a firm joint. Since the walls are built with a recycled porous granulate material, a mineral material, and no binder is used, they are made from a recyclable circular material.

Resource saving plastic

Qmilk - plastic made from milk
Nature instead of oil: Plastic can also be made from natural materials – for example from milk. Photo: Qmilk

Plastic is a material that we cannot do without completely – and the same goes for architects and designers. Nevertheless, it is usually based on petroleum, and its production involves a resource-intensive, high-energy chemical synthesis. However, research has shown that it doesn’t have to be like this: scientists have put forward processes for producing plastics from (waste) products from the food industry. One product that we consume every day can be used to produce plastic: milk. 1.7 million tonnes of colostrum are disposed of every year in Germany alone – and that’s without the overproduction. When milk turns sour, casein is produced, which is malleable when it is warm and moist. Once it has dried, the natural polymer forms a firm material that has the same properties as a thermosetting plastic. The research of natural production possibilities is still in its infancy. However, their development gives us hope that we will move towards a greener future with ever-increasing steps.