Materials Changing the Future of Architecture


Materials are a crucial element for architecture; they not only help the designer bring their aesthetic visions to life but they allow them to remain functional. Architecture has evolved alongside building materials–as materials become more sophisticated, so does architecture. 

Breakthroughs such as reinforced concrete and metallic structures, for instance, changed the way humans inhabit cities forever, allowing for new structures such as skyscrapers and large, durable bridges.

With rapid advancement in the quality of materials, what's next for architecture? New technologies––sometimes developed for other fields––have the potential for crossing over and creating impact in the building industry. These new materials could change the way we interact with our buildings, their lifespan, and their appearance.

Self-Cleaning Finishes

Materials Changing the Future of Architecture

Tokyu Plaza Ginza, designed by Nikken Sekkei

As high-rise buildings become more common, self-cleaning claddings and finishes can help improve their notoriously challenging upkeep, protecting from dirt and smog. With the help of such materials, cleaning glassed facades can become an obsolete task. Self-cleaning technology is not only useful for the upkeep of large structures, small buildings or residential dwellings can also benefit. By eliminating the necessity of cleaning, the design earns sustainability points when it comes to water saving and the elimination of cleaning substances that can negatively harm the environment. Self-cleaning finishes can be applied to a variety of claddings, such as aluminum, glass, and paint.

This technology is possible thanks to nanomaterials; the claddings are coated in a mixture of nanoparticles that allow the material to repel water, oil, and dirt.

Self-Healing Materials

Materials Changing the Future of Architecture

Casa Candelaria, deisgned by Cheram Arquitectos

All materials suffer damages over the span of time, whether caused by weather, prolonged use, or unanticipated events. Sometimes, to repair a small crack on a structure an invasive solution is needed as patching it up could cause unwanted structural weaknesses. With self-healing materials, this problem no longer exists. Self-healing metal, concrete, and facades could change a building's life expectancy, drastically cutting costs in maintenance in the long run. 

The technology behind self-healing concrete is the mixing of Bacillus bacteria into the concrete, which, when in contact with calcium lactate encapsulated in the mix when a rupture is formed, creates limestone, filling the cracks. Bacteria can lay dormant inside the mix for up to 200 years, making it a relatively long term solution. Self-healing metal, on the other hand, doesn't heal major structural cracks; it heals microscopic cracks that might, in the future, compromise the integrity of the structure. Self-healing facades imbued with nanomaterials can also be beneficial when it comes to the reduction of upkeep costs.

Hardwood Cross-Laminated Timber

Materials Changing the Future of Architecture

China Pavillion, designed by Studio Link-Arc

Cross-Laminated timber, a material made of layers of solid lumber, is a valuable alternative for those looking to build sustainably and durability. The material has a strength comparable to reinforced concrete and structural steel, which is attained by layering pieces of solid wood, alternating their strand orientation. Thanks to its strength and durability, the material could gradually start to replace structures usually built in steel.

Homeostatic Facades

Materials Changing the Future of Architecture

Facade design by Homeostatic Facade

This facade system adjusts to exterior conditions––such as light and heat––to help the building maintain desired interior conditions, in what is known as "biomimicry". This system is composed by a ribbon made of a dielectric material (a polymer that reacts to electric impulses) encased in a double glass facade. Both sides of the material are coated with silver, which reflects light and distributes the electricity across the surface of the material, allowing it to morph according to the building's necessities.


Materials Changing the Future of Architecture

The Eden Project, design by Nicholas Grimshaw

Plastic is one of the most contaminant elements in the world, mostly thanks to its slow biodegradation. Bioplastic, or biopolymers, is made of algae, marine chitins, cellulose and a wide variety of renewable biomass resources. Its organic nature makes it easier to degrade after discarding, making it a green alternative to plastic made with fossil fuels. Bioplastic could be used in cladding, structural elements, and other architectural aiding structures.

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Comments (3)

Sarah, Architect Office - Other • 2017

Thanks for your feedback. Do let us know if there are any other topics you would like to see us cover.

Ola, Architect • 2017

Wow! :o

Delyan, Student • 2018

Well, these developments in building materials are really awesome! so many new applications and opportunities for architects and builders to turn to sustainability in construction! I recently came across an interesting list of materials on a blog I follow to complement the ones you listed here, check it out on