While designing buildings, it often happens that the fact that a building is not permanent is overlooked. We are so focused on short-term use and inhabitants that we forget that our buildings will one-day face demolition. What then, happens to all the materials used for the construction of the building? Some materials are re-used for other construction purposes; such as bricks and concrete for rubble soling, wood for veneers, etc. But the majority of the materials are unusable and are discarded, endangering the environment. Considering the current situation, it is essential to shift to alternative materials that have similar strengths and load-bearing capacities; but at the same time are easier on the environment. Here are the biodegradable examples of the biodegradable architecture :
1. Cork | Biodegradable Example
Cork is a very underrated material in the construction field. The harvesting process of cork does not cause any harm to the tree, as it is the bark that is removed. The bark regenerates every ten years. The cork oak trees support higher levels of biodiversity, and the stripped trees absorb maximum carbon dioxide and release more oxygen. Cork is very waterproof, resists abrasion, and has fire-retardant and acoustical insulation properties. Hence, it finds itself useful in different areas of construction. Recently, it is being considered as an external façade cladding for buildings. Cork Studio designed and constructed an entire building prototype that can be completely recycled, composted, or reused.
2. Bamboo | Examples of Biodegradable
Bamboo has been a very popular and widely used material in the past few years. Many small-scale architectural studios are specializing in only using bamboo paired with other natural methods for construction. It is ranked at the top of the list of the most sustainable materials. It has a natural aesthetic quality to it as well, which serves well for its versatility. Bamboo was initially only used for constructing temporary pavilions and canopies, and other similar structures. Now, more than 2 storeyed structures are being constructed entirely out of bamboo. There are various joints used in the construction, which eliminates the need for another material to bind the bamboo together. The sustainability factor that makes bamboo so popular is that it can grow up to four feet a day, can regrow after the harvest and its strength is two to three times greater than steel. IBUKU Studio is based in Bali, designing and constructing structures made entirely out of bamboo.
3. Desert sand | Biodegradable Waste Examples
A couple of years earlier, some students from the Imperial College London, developed a composite material that is comparable to concrete. It uses the abundantly available desert sand, instead of the river sand or the fine white sand that’s mostly used in construction, which is being depleted. River sand is also packed with essential minerals that make the surrounding soil fertile. This new material is called Finite and it is biodegradable, because of the organic binders in it. These binders allow the material to decompose and be reused multiple times, thereby reducing material consumption.
Linoleum is a floor covering made from natural materials such as linseed oil, cork dust, pine resin, sawdust, and minerals fillers. Unlike vinyl, which is made from a mix of synthetic petrochemicals, linoleum is a much more sustainable choice. It can also be incinerated to provide a cleaner source of energy.
5. Bioplastics | Biodegradable Waste Example
The amount of plastic waste generated daily is alarming and a cause for concern. The search for cleaner alternatives led to the development of Bioplastics. These are plastic materials produced from renewal biosources, such as vegetable oils and fats, corn starch, soybean, sawdust, woodchips, and recycled food waste. It can also be made from agricultural waste and used plastic waste. They break down at a faster rate than synthetic plastic and produce biomass at the same time. Although for now, the bioplastics are being experimented as containers and bags, they can shape the construction field shortly. Students from Stuttgart University in Germany designed a pavilion using a bioplastic that contains over 90% renewal materials.
6. Medium-density fibreboard (MDF) – using potato starch | Biodegradable Waste Examples
MDF is primarily used in furniture making. It is an engineered wood made from the residue of hardwood or softwood and then combined with wax and resin forming it into panels. The primary adhesive used in MDF is based on the chemical formaldehyde, which cannot be recycled, and the huge amounts of used MDF are either incinerated or end up in the landfill. Recently, research is being conducted to substitute the formaldehyde with a potato starch resin, which will be biodegradable.
7. Rammed earth construction | Examples of Biodegradable
As the name implies, rammed earth construction is done by compressing layers of earth, sand, gravel, and clay. It is completely biodegradable and has multiple benefits. The soil and earth are locally sourced, which reduces the transport cost. Rammed earth walls are breathable and regulate internal temperatures. They bear the structural load, which allows the space to be free of obstructions. The different layers compressed form a very aesthetically pleasing façade. The range of construction is from a single leveled house in Brazil, by studio Arquipelago Arquitetos; to a hospital in Nepal designed by Sharon Davis Design.
8. Timber | Example of biodegradable waste
Timber is one of the most renewal and biodegradable materials. Of course, it is sourced from trees and can cause deforestation when exploited. But when it is sourced sustainably, it is a cleaner alternative. However, in the construction field, the treatment of the timber must be considered, as a lot of it can end up as residual waste. This waste needs extra different treatment before it is thrown in the landfill – this is an unnecessary process that could be avoided.
9. Mycelium | Biodegradable Waste Examples
One of the upcoming and promising materials is mycelium bricks. Mycelium is a collection of thin root-like fibers that grow underground. When dried, they can be used as a very strong, fire, and water-resistant material that can be used for construction. It can be molded and grown into various specific forms. A tower made out of these bricks was constructed in the courtyard of the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) in New York.
Hemp is mostly used for insulation purposes. When combined with concrete, it is made into Hempcrete, which is used for precast, cast-on-site applications. Hempcrete has no carbon emissions and hemp is by itself a renewable resource, which can be grown with minimal water.
Innovation and technology can lead us to discover and develop cleaner, better and environment-friendly materials for construction. Most non-recyclable material ends up in the landfill or is incinerated which causes further damage to the environment. It is up to the architects and researchers to create better decisions for the entire process of a building project.