Blog - Dzings

New Materials in Commercial Construction

October 23, 2021

As research and development in materials science advance, new ways of constructing buildings are emerging. Some will inevitably find their places in small niches, others might turn out to have broad applicability, but what is certain is that the buildings of the next decade will be stronger, more environmentally friendly, and more cost-efficient than the buildings of the last one.
Here are a few new materials that could change commercial construction for the better –

Mass Timber – The mass timber category includes several types of laminated timber, most notably cross-laminated timber and glue-laminated timber. Glue-laminated timber is composed of several pieces of lumber that are glued together and is useful for creating strong beams. Cross-laminated timber is made up of pieces of lumber stacked in alternating directions and makes large panels that can support a lot of weight. Both types of timber are surprisingly fire-resistant. The Atlantic reports that the outer layers create a char when burned that helps to insulate the rest of the wood. In fire testing, they have demonstrated the ability to maintain their structural integrity.

Self-Healing Materials – Also exciting are the recent developments in self-healing cement. As we mentioned above, even a small crack in a concrete structure can develop into a much bigger, more expensive problem. According to CityLab, materials scientists have recently found a novel way of using living spores to help concrete mend itself when cracks occur! The solution involves small, water-permeable capsules that can be mixed into wet concrete. Once the concrete sets and dries, the spores exist in suspended animation – just like packets of dry yeast. When a crack opens in the concrete and fills with water, though, they begin to grow and produce calcite, a crystalline form of calcium carbonate found in marble and limestone. The calcite fills the cracks in the concrete and hardens, preventing the crack from getting any wider.

Air Cleaning Bricks – Indoor air quality (IAQ) is becoming a more important concern for commercial real estate as we gain a better understanding of how built environments affects the health of those who live and work in them. There is no shortage of ways to improve IAQ, but most of them require active energy use to filter the air. That approach emits more carbon and other pollutants into the air over the long term.
Carmen Trudell, assistant professor at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo’s school of architecture, has invented a passive system that makes use of the bricks on the outside of the building to filter out the heavier particles in the air as it enters the space. The concrete bricks funnel air into an internal cyclone filtration section that separates heavy elements and drops them down into a hopper at the base of the wall. Clean air is then pulled into the building, either mechanically or passively, and maintenance can simply remove and empty the hopper on a periodic basis. In tests, the system removed about a third of fine particulate matter and 100 percent of coarse particles. Better still, Trudell’s system is inexpensive relative to alternative options, and she envisions using them in developing countries.

Strand Rods – In Japan, where earthquakes are an unfortunate fact of life, the Komatsu Seiten Fabric Laboratory has covered its head office in a thermoplastic carbon fiber composite that it calls CABKOMA Strand Rod. The composite is covered in inorganic and synthetic fibers and a finish of thermoplastic resin, using tensile strength to create the world’s lightest seismic reinforcement system.
The rods are up to five times lighter than the metal wire of the same strength are make for a surprisingly attractive motif. They’re also quite effective – the building is rated well above the conventional performance requirements for seismic reinforcement.

Passive Cooling Ceramics – Students at the Institute for Advanced Architecture of Catalonia’s Digital Matter Intelligent Constructions studio have come up with a facade made of a clay composite and hydrogel that cools buildings the same way our skin cools our bodies.
Our bodies sweat to cool us down. When our skin is wet, heat transfers into the water, and the hottest water particles evaporate, taking the heat away with them. This material functions in the same way. Water collects in the hydrogel droplets that are embedded in the clay composite. As the building heats up, heat is transferred to the water and then lost to evaporation. This effect happens much faster when it is hotter, meaning the system is also responsive to temperature conditions.
The students responsible for the project found that it could produce up to a 6.4 degrees centigrade reduction in temperature over the course of 20 minutes. In ideal conditions, this could lead to a reduction in air conditioning use of 28 percent, which would result in significant savings and a reduction in carbon emissions.

Recycled Materials – Architects and builders on the cutting edge of the environmental movement are using recycled materials like scrap metal, cardboard, and even plastic bottles to create new buildings with smaller carbon footprints.
Recycled cardboard, for example, is being used to create high-quality cellulose insulation that outperforms insulation made with traditional processes. UltraCell Insulation makes use of a wet process, as opposed to older dry processes that result in contamination and dusty products.
Plastic, soda, and water bottles have always been recycled, but generally, they can only be used to create new bottles a few times before they need to be disposed of. In the last few decades, plastic bottles have increasingly found new, longer life in the form of PET (polyethylene terephthalate) carpets. The PET in bottles is ideal for making soft, fibrous carpets, and when it reaches the end of its life as a carpet it can be used again in car parts, stuffing, and insulation.
We at Dzigns Architecture are keenly looking into opportunities to tap this segment of innovation and find ways to make these materials financially sustainable so that they can be commonly used in the construction business.


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