Smart materials and their importance in future of Architecture

With the advancing technology and ever-increasing challenges, smart materials which are also known as responsive materials, hold a huge potential for both architects and engineers. Smart materials offer forms of interactive and customisable construction that could help people interact with their built environments in a different manner.

With the advancing technology and the introduction and evolution of touch screens, or other glass based technologies, there was also the introduction of user interfaces to levels where interactive cityscapes became possible. Smart materials and their intensities vary from user to user, based on their needs, behavior and desired results.

Artificial pine cone which is reactive towards water
Cannopies resistant to rain but receptive to sunligt

Smart materials have the capability to resist extreme environmental hazards and heal or get back to the same configuration later. Its life-cycle cost efficiency aids in efficient installation and construction methods.

Smart materials contribute to the well-being of the society as well as the environment. Here are few evolving smart materials which have been recognised for their efficiency, workability and many other properties that help architecture and design evolve every day.

1. Cellulose Nanofibers

Nanofibers from wood pulp are treated with chemicals and mixed with the ones that are not treated and are in their natural form. Electrical charge in then passed through these which has the capability of charging batteries and power the lighting system.

Floor panels can be created that convert the mechanical energy of footsteps to electrical energy that can be later utilised. These also have a very appealing exterior, adding on to the aesthetics.

Cellulose nanofiber that can be used as construction material
A ply like material made out of cellulose nanofiber

2. Hydroceramic

This is a compact combination of hydrogel’s evaporative property with its thermal mass and the ceramic clay and fabrics property of humidity control. Hydrogels are substances that absorb and retain 500 times their weight in water.

Chemically these are insoluble polymers and they are activated as a cooling aid by exposing the absorbed water to a large surface area. Their function is to reduce temperatures and increase humidity. They can lower the temperatures of the interiors by 5 to 6 degrees. It can help save 28% of the overall electricity consumption caused due to the usage of air-conditioners.

Composition of Hydroceramic
Hydroceramic tiles used in construction

3. Water-Driven Breathing Skills

Water driven breathing skin was an experiment that has evolved as a successful building material. It is breathing skin like material that performs open-close behaviour to facilitate passive ventilation and add on to a cooling effect for the outdoor spaces. It mimics homeostasis in way; which is a natural tendency of organisms to auto-regulate and maintain their internal temperature and conditions in a stable state.

Water driven breathing skin functions as a tensile form which acts as an urban breather for outdoor spaces as mentioned earlier. The key material used in constructing this skin is sodium polyacrylate, a super absorbent polymer. It can absorb up to 300 times its weight in water. It is 15 times more efficient than commonly used misting systems. The system is also cost-effective in construction and maintenance.

Water driven breathing skin-2
Water driven breathing skin

4. Hydromembrane

Hydromembrane is a passive humidity sensitive, composite system which can be utilised at both micro and macro scales. The membrane consists of six layers and merging three materials with significantly different physical and chemical features. This membrane is sensitive to moisture and reacts to it with aperture deformations as a primer output.

A secondary cooling effect appears due to its property of water absorption and evaporation. The other advantage of this membrane is that its highly flexible and shape-adaptive due its thinness, and hence it can also be used as a second skin to existing buildings.

Hydromembrane a compoosite system sensitive to moisture-2.jpg
Hydromembrane a compoosite system sensitive to moisture

5. Shrilk

Shrilk is a fully degradable bioplastic which is made from isolating a material called ‘chitosan’ found in shrimp shells, which later forms a laminate with silk fibroin protein. It is light transparent, renewable, sustainable and biodegradable.

All the materials required to make shrilk are easily available, thus it could be cheap to make. Once discarded, shrilk breaks down in just a few weeks and releases rich nutrients that nourish both plants and soil. It can be used for both small and large scale three dimensional objects.

shrilk a fully degradable bioplastic
shrilk inspired from the microarchitecture of natural insect cuticle

6. Synthetic Spider Web

Synthetic spider web is said to be (ounce for ounce) stronger than steel and are very evidently inspired rom the natural spider webs. The aim behind experimenting and concluding with this material was to promote the idea of constructing new designs and structures that are lighter, more reliable and damage resistant.

Though the process, research and experimenting is still on, it is concluded that synthetic spider web can be constructed via 3D printing, and the distribution of its mass would decide its total strength.

Synthetic spider web used as construction materail
Fiber material used in construction inspired from spider webs

 – Janvi Mangukiya