Over the last few years, research & development into new and innovative materials has flourished. Why? Modern materials are being sought to solve old problems. In addition, countries across the globe are pushing for the use of novel materials that are eco-friendly and sustainable. These materials are now being used by architects and designers in all sorts of applications in homes and buildings. Below is an overview of four ground-breaking materials that are increasingly being used in construction. They are coming soon to a home near you!
Ultra High-Performance Concrete- New, super-strength concrete has been developed to withstand earthquakes and even bombs. It is made with sand and cement like regular concrete, and then pure quartz, reinforcing metals and fibres are added to give it even more strength. Ultra high-performance concrete is being used to create dams, bridges, swimming pools, sewage pipes, sunshades for buildings and architectural masterpieces. Ductal, a French version of the material, boasts superior properties such as strength, ductility, durability and aesthetic appeal. Using Ductal, designers can create longer, thinner and lighter constructions that are more durable than traditional concrete. Because construction using Ductal requires less concrete and it has a long lifespan, Ductal is an environmentally-friendly product that is sure to skyrocket in use. For more details about Ductal, see http://www.ductal-lafarge.com/wps/portal/ductal/1-About_Ductal .
Sea Balls/Neptune Balls- Sea balls, commonly referred to as Neptune balls, are made of matted seaweed fibres. They are naturally made through the rolling of the sea, making them extremely eco-friendly and renewable. These dense balls of algae are found on beaches in the Mediterranean. Sea balls contain little salt or protein which means they do not rot over time. In addition, research has shown that they are non-flammable. Because of this, they are an excellent candidate for building insulation in roofs and for timber insulation. Unlike traditional insulation, the fibres are not toxic to humans. A German company was the first to put sea balls on the market under the name “Neptu Therm” and we speculate that it is only a matter of time before this environmentally-friendly product becomes more widely available on the global market.
Bamboo- While bamboo is anything but a newly-discovered material, its innovative uses in construction are still being discovered. Bamboo is actually superior to other construction materials for many reasons. Bamboo grows extremely quickly. In fact, it grows three times faster than other hardwoods used for construction (e.g. oak), making it a sustainable and eco-friendly resource. Since it is lightweight, construction with bamboo does not require the use of heavy equipment, making it an ideal material for construction in undeveloped and rural areas. Bamboo boasts strength comparable to steel, making it an ideal material for construction. It has been used to build truck-safe bridges in China (http://www.eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2007-12/uosc-tbb121107.php).
While there are many advantages to using bamboo in structural engineering, there are some drawbacks to its use. It becomes less durable when exposed to UV rays and its empty core makes it less fire-resistant than other materials. Scientists at universities across the globe are researching bamboo’s inner properties in order to find ways to overcome these limitations.
Coconut Wood- Coconut wood is being used increasingly for many elements of home construction, flooring and furniture. Over-mature, unproductive trees from coconut plantations can be repurposed into sustainable, eco-friendly building material. The inner core of the coconut palm is extremely strong, even harder than oak and is especially appealing because the wood shrinks and swells minimally. Coconut wood can be used in home construction. The low-density inner core of the coconut palm can be used for non-load bearing walls, window frames, jalousies (louvre windows), doors and panels. The higher-density outer part of the trunk can be used for posts, trusses, joists, girders, rafters, flooring, door jambs, balustrades, railings, and other load-bearing structures. Since coconut wood has no rings or knots, as flooring it offers a sophisticated, sleek look in your home (http://www.bamstar.com/palm_wood.asp).
These are just a few of the new and exciting innovative materials that are making a big impact in the world of architecture and design. There are others: watch for fungus-based materials, self-reinforced thermoplastics, Blingcrete (light-reflecting concrete) and Luminoso (a wood and fibre optics composite).
The discovery and development of new materials is driving innovation around the world. As these materials are pressed into service by architects and designers, it’s an exciting time to be in the construction and renovation business.