Imagine if the buildings that dot our landscape never fell into a state of disrepair, but could automatically regenerate themselves like the trees around them? What if technology could make ‘living’, ‘breathing’ structures possible by incorporating the dynamism of nature into sustainable architectural solutions? Let’s look at the future of such a world, which is already evolving.
Currently, cities are built with the assumption that their components will remain constant, which limits their ability to deal with change. But urban landscapes are slowly beginning to evolve an architectural symbiosis of their own with a focus on building responsive structures. Such technology is derived from the mimicry of natural processes in artificial materials and the integration of natural materials into construction practices.
Imagine a delicate skin that can be used to clothe a building’s exterior, which grows and renews its own coverings much like forest foliage. The technology of protocells can create a responsive structural exterior by operating as a communicative interface. They can be chemically programmed to mimic environmental cues such as metabolism. The energy exchanges that occur through metabolism partner the structure’s exteriors with its environment in a constant regenerative dialogue.
Such metabolic materials are fast becoming an architectural reality. They also show potential in helping cities cope with permanent environmental change. The threat of rising water levels can be mitigated as these materials require water for their development. Speculative technology suggests that carbon –fixing protocells could stop Venice from sinking on its soft geological foundations by generating a sustainable, artificial reef under it and spreading the point load of the city. Protocells can also help with reducing the urban carbon footprint. Cities today account for 40% of carbon emissions. Carbon-capture technology can be implemented using protocells to function as synthetic lungs on a building’s exterior. Not only would the buildings thrive on the carbon emissions from pollution, but their structures would be fortified by recycling carbon into the buildings. Buildings could also regenerate as a result of sinking the waste gases into their substance and transforming these once toxic and undesirable environments into useful locations. A prototype ‘lung’ system was recently shown at London’s Building Centre Gallery as a ‘floating canopy of laser-cut aluminum meshwork FITTED with interconnected glass and polymer filters. The meshwork consisted of the carbon-capture protocells that operate in a manner similar to that of marine organisms when they build reefs.
Such technology presents us with a sustainable way of blending the artificial with the natural. At present, protocells work in conjunction with inert building materials in the capacity of a communicative medium. Research suggests that it is not long before they can be used to generate structures on their own by constantly recycling and regenerating themselves to the extent that they blend in as part of the natural environment. The air we breathe could be continually filtered and recycled through biomimicry and advanced carbon capture technology from artificial structures. Living structures could be an integral part of the future blueprint, guiding practices of sustainable architecture.
What are your thoughts on living structures? Please share your comments in the section below.