10 Examples of biodegradable materials in architecture.

As an architect, we need to overlook the whole life-cycle of a building, especially after demolition. How we tackle the demolition waste becomes just as crucial as saving landscape while designing. Though architects use wood, rubble, and bricks for other jobs on the construction site, concrete, glass, and plastic create a problem. Besides damaging the environment, they are unusable and discarded. Thus, we need an alternative solution and, this is where the role of biodegradable materials in architecture comes into the picture.

Biodegradable materials in architecture can break down by living organisms such as bacteria and fungi. Hence, they do not pollute the environment. Besides low maintenance and construction costs, they do not release toxic, carcinogenic fumes and benefit the health of the residents. In addition to reducing the number of greenhouse gases let into the atmosphere, they help lower the speed of climate change due to construction. Biodegradable materials in architecture are subtle ways to create a big difference. In this blog, let us discuss ten examples of biodegradable materials in architecture.

Biodegradable materials in architecture : Cork.

Biodegradable materials in architecture - Cork
Unit 3 Studio in Cork © Selencky Parsons

Cork does not cause any harm to the tree and regenerates and decomposes completely after demolition. Apart from being waterproof, Cork resists abrasion and has fire-retardant properties. In addition to flooring, the material suits insulation, exterior finishes, floor under layment, acoustic wall openings, and countertop purposes. Among all the biodegradable materials in architecture, Cork is the most fungi-resisting one.

It has air pockets that make it suitable for flooring and imparts good sound properties to the material. These air pockets prevent the exchange of heat and cold between the indoors and the outdoors. Cork is anti-microbial and hence suitable for bathrooms and kitchens. Being impermeable, it resists mold, mildew, and fire. Among the biodegradable materials in architecture, Cork is non-toxic. It provides a warm yet rustic appearance to your structure. Furthermore, Cork offers unique patterns in design, texture, grain, and color. It keeps the bulky masses out because of its lightweight.

Bamboo

Biodegradable materials in architecture - Bamboo
Ulaman Eco retreat, Tabanan © Honey combers

Bamboo is one of the most inexpensive and culturally blooming materials of all the biodegradable materials in architecture. In addition to a compressive strength that is higher than wood, Bamboo has the same tensile strength as steel. Apart from being the fastest-growing grass, it applies to cost-effective structures in architecture. Additionally, it can sustain high earthquakes and is a very versatile material. It is a lightweight, low-cost material that requires some treatment before construction. But, it resists all issues of building management effectively. Worldwide, Arata Isozaki, Renzo Piano, Frei Otto, and Neelam Manjunath are bamboo architects.

Also Read: Renzo Piano: Ecological Innovator

In comparison to other biodegradable materials in architecture, the uses of Bamboo are endless. Besides trusses, Bamboo builds roof skeletons, walling, doors, and windows effectively. Furthermore, Bamboo flooring resists wear and tear and structures well. Whole culms support the building while boards and mats attach to the frame to refurnish correctly.

Desert sand or Finite.

Blocks made up of desert sand, a low carbon alternative © Dezeen

Among all the biodegradable materials in architecture, desert sand is the smoothest one. Though one cannot use it for mixing concrete, researchers from London have converted it into a material called ‘finite’; The material withstands loads with the same intensity as that of housing bricks and residential concrete. Moreover, finite has a footprint that is almost half of that of concrete. Furthermore, similar to other biodegradable materials in architecture, this material can be reused, broken, and remolded many times. You can even color it using natural dyes. Finite is a suitable alternative for architecture in the desert areas as it will require zero to little transportation there. The material is currently used only for temporary structures as it still has to pass some testing for permanent architecture.

Linoleum

Biodegradable materials in architecture - Linoleum
Linoleum for flooring © Hunker

Also Read: Top 5 Examples of Sustainability in modern architecture forms in the world

Unlike biodegradable materials in architecture, Linoleum combines materials like Linseed oil, Cork, Dust, Pine resin, Sawdust, and Mineral fillers. Though Vinyl is similar to Linoleum is a mixture of synthetic petrochemicals, Linoleum is much more eco-friendly and a cleaner source of energy. When laid properly, Linoleum is not only durable but resists weathering. Besides being resilient and comfortable, linoleum floors are hygienic and easy to maintain. Though you can use soap to clean these floors, excessive use or strong soaps destroy its surface. However, Linoleum swells due to moisture and gets attacked by fungi. Hence, manufacturers use wax to polish it. As against other biodegradable materials in architecture that do not resist shock waves, Linoleum offers a cushioning effect and bounces back when stuck. Moreover, Linoleum does not emit harmful gases and lasts to about 40 years or more.

Bioplastics

Arboskin, thermoforable bioplastic facade © Material District

With a large amount of plastic waste generated each day, the search for cleaner, alternative, biodegradable materials in architecture is going on in full swing. Besides being made up of renewable resources, bioplastic uses vegetable oils and fats, corn starch, soybean, sawdust, woodchips, recycled food waste, and plastic waste for construction. Moreover, they break down faster than synthetic plastic and produce biomass. Furthermore, Arboblend Bioplastics can structure furniture, gardens, and landscapes. The research to use biodegradable materials in architecture, namely biomass, as an alternative to concrete, steel, and wood is still in process. But, architects can use it for temporary structures and interiors. A recent example would be that of the pavilion in Germany with a bioplastic facade of 90% renewal materials.

Biodegradable materials in architecture : MDF with Potato Starch.

MDF panels for interior design © Home Klondike

As against the biodegradable materials in architecture, MDF, made from the residue of hardwood or softwood, uses formaldehyde that does not decompose and leaves residue in the landfill. Consequently, scientists researched it and formed a new panel that uses potato starch instead of formaldehyde to biodegrade it. In addition to being environment friendly, it is much easier to manufacture and uses waste or recyclable products. We often blame MDF for the amount of waste it creates. However, this new material that looks identical to MDF could be recycled or composted. Hence, it could bring a revolution to the use of biodegradable materials in architecture.

Also Read: Top 10 architectural world records that you must know.

Rammed earth.

Biodegradable materials in architecture - Rammed earth
Half buried home in Brazil © Inhabitat

The construction of these biodegradable materials in architecture uses compressed layers of earth, sand, and gravel. The transportation cost reduces as we get soil and mud from local sources. Besides noise reduction and strength, rammed earth walls have low maintenance and do not need further attention for about 10-20 years. Moreover, these 300mm thick rammed walls are loadbearing and, so you do not need any other structural framing for your home. Furthermore, unlike other biodegradable materials in architecture, rammed earth favors commercial and domestic buildings with variations in texture, color, and finish. It scares away termites and other pests and thus, reduces termite attacks on structural timber.

Timber.

Wintringham Primary academy © dRMm

Timber is one of the most renewable sources among the biodegradable materials in architecture. Besides being cleaner, it is a sustainable alternative when sourced locally. Though traditional timber can cause a lot of residual waste, properly treated timber is biodegradable. Additionally, timber is an insulating material that creates a barrier between heat and cold. Although timber is combustible, it burns slow and works better in fire hazards than other biodegradable materials in architecture. Furthermore, it uses less fossil fuel energy per unit volume than steel, concrete, or aluminum and thus is more environmentally friendly. Structurally, timber is inexpensive, easy to work with, and has high tensile strength.

Also Read: Srilanka parliament building

Mycelium.

Mycotecture, the architecture of fungi, Mycelium park, London © future architecture platform

Mycelium is a promising addition to biodegradable materials in architecture. Made from thin, root-like underground fibers, Mycelium is a durable fire-resistant material for construction. Additionally, we can grow Mycelium boards or bricks in any designated place by filling them with architectural waste, straw, husks, and mushroom spores. Though this structure can withstand a compressive load of 0.2Mpa only, it is lightweight by about 60 times than traditional brick. One can mold it to form any shape, use it as an insulator, or craft a unique facade to revolutionize the biodegradable materials in architecture.

Hemp.

Jonathan Tuckey Design, Hempcrete house © Dezeen

In its raw form, Hemp is an insulator. If one adds lime and water, it forms hempcrete, a suitable alternative for precast and on-site applications. Additionally, just like the other materials, it has zero carbon emissions and can be grown with minimal water. Since it is a plant-based fiber, it stores moisture and, this property makes it suitable for both hot and cold climates. Furthermore, Hemp is an excellent substrate for plaster finishes without the need for mesh or other bonding agents. It does not release any gases or toxins in its indoor environment, nor does it catch microbes or fungus. Thus, Hemp is a suitable addition to biodegradable materials in architecture.

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