Many people are incredibly satisfied with their smart homes, but really how smart are they? Of course, they need huge amounts of investment and science breakthrough to change the intensity of lights or make you coffee through voice recognition, but some researchers are focusing their studies on different goals. Goals that involve provide life to the house.
Sounds weird? Well, it may be the response to the environmental crisis we -as human beings- are currently facing. Just imagine buildings could breathe, eat and grow. The idea may seem implausible but some are currently focusing on achieving these futuristic concepts. Let's have a look at some of them.
The human being already uses natural materials to build, but what if we used living materials that would help the building grow on its own? According to an article published in the Scientific American magazine, there is a compound that comes from the root of fungus that could become the most futuristic material discovered. Mycelium can grow wood chips or coffee grounds in record timing, which are known for having great structural performance.
An example of this is the Hy-Fi installation located in NYC. This is a 50-feet tower that was built on Mycelium bricks. The problem is we haven't figured out how to keep the material partially alive so it can grow and adapt. However, the group of Lynn Rothschild, called the Myco-architecture project, is investigating the possibility of reproducing them to settle colonies on other planets. Yet, it could still work on Earth.
One of the main problems with our current construction system is that buildings have an expiration date. Once the concrete starts cracking and water enters, it is a sign that the end is getting close. That water filters to the foundations of the building and start oxidizing the metal reinforcements, taking away stability to the structure.
This is why several researchers have started to search for a self-healing material. One of the most advanced investigations is the one carried out by Henk Jonkers and its team. The group of the Delft University of Technology, located in The Netherlands, is incorporating bacterial spores into the concrete mix.
Thanks to this solution, when the concrete starts cracking and humidity starts entering the structure, the water reactivates these bacteria and they produce a chemical process that generates new calcite crystals to fix the concrete. Buildings could last much longer -measured in decades- thanks to this groundbreaking process.
Even though the tallest buildings in the world are some of the most amazing architectural results of the human being, the truth is they need lots of support. In fact, people wouldn't be able to breathe on the highest floors if it didn't have appropriate conditioning systems, similar to immense lungs that climatise rooms and circulate air.
To get rid of this problem, the international expert from MIT Hiroshi Ishii and his group are developing a new kind of material that would alter its shape with water. Although it is somewhat complex, the overall idea is to include bacterial spores that contract and change its shape to let air and humidity flow out of the building.
It was already proven that this method responds to human transpiration in clothing, but now the group is investigating how to extend this method to create membranes that would help the building take out humidity as it rises indoors. These membranes of latex would flex the material and open pores -similar to sweating glands- to let the air flow through the walls when there is too much vapour from a shower or kettle.
Buildings to strengthen the immune system
There a zillion microorganisms in every surface of our houses, bodies and basically every single bit of air that surrounds us. Some of them are good, but we tend to spend tons of money every year to buy antimicrobial cleaners that kill bad microorganisms. Meanwhile, those who live near farms don't suffer as much from allergies because they are exposed to "good" bacteria, strengthening their immune system.
Now, the University College of London is carrying out a very interesting pilot project that studies how surfaces become bio-receptive. The idea is to promote resistance to bugs that cause diseases and foster the generation of good bacteria.
Buildings that eat
Two of the greatest concerns for humanity are energy and waste. Now, what if we could solve them both by hitting them with one stone? It turns out that researchers have found that waste could become a great source of energy for a whole building. According to Living Architecture -an EU project-, efforts are being made to develop a type of fuel cell that basically eats waste and generates bits of power.
The fuel cells are mixed with the bricks to form a structural fabric that would work as a stomach. They consume wastewater to turn it into chemical energy and the actual waste is transformed into electrical energy. In other words, basically, the WC would charge your phone.
Living buildings sound truly exciting, but there is still a problem unsolved: they will die at some point. However, this already happens and although it is something our science would have to overcome, it is better to have this technology than not have it. Of course, this would not remember you when you ran out of veggies, but it will eventually give life to a new building that would use this energy to grow and adapt.