This week, we explore concrete that can store and deliver solar energy, water than can act as energy-efficient insulation, and a 3D printing robotic machine that mimics the silk-producing processes of spiders. We also found that buildings may need to embrace some rocking technology to better survive earthquakes.

  • Though robotic arms being used in 3D printing are nothing new, a group of designers in the “Digital Future” Shanghai Workshop have created a machine that goes beyond the basics of printing in layers. The designers took a biomimetic approach by studying the process of a spider producing silk to develop a six-axis robotic machine, which 3D prints threads weaving in mid-air. The aim of the project is to eliminate the line between designing and fabricating. In the future, architects can not only provide designs and construction notes, but could be “capable of fabricating their work quickly and precisely by themselves,” says designer Ji Shi. [Gizmodo]

  • Could water be the next great secret to a home’s energy efficiency? Hungarian inventor Matya Gutai introduced a small prototype of a house made with glass panels filled with water as insulation. Absorbing heat in hot outdoor temperatures and distributing it during cold spells, the water would make the house warm during winter and cool in the summer, while reducing the need for external energy sources. An integrated monitoring system would allow occupants to set the indoor temperature, allowing the heat stored in the water transferred when needed. [Discovery News]

  • Michael Pollino

  • Buildings that rock and return to plumb can endure seismic activity better than structural designs commonly utilized in areas prone to earthquakes, according to research by Michael Pollino, an assistant civil engineering professor at Cleveland's Case Western University’s School of Engineering. Pollino developed a computer model of a three-story building that proved to suffer less damage than current designs for earthquake-resilient standards in low-rise and mid-rise buildings. The building model featured columns of a steel frame secured to the structure’s foundation by viscous damping and steel-yielding devices—which act as shock absorbers and electrical fuses, respectively—allowing the building to rock during an earthquake as the frame lifts off the foundation and tilts. [EurekAlert!
    Forschung Initiative

  • Researchers at the University of Kassel in Germany developed a concrete material that acts as a photovoltaic cell. DysCrete is composed of layers of titanium dioxide, organic liquid, an electrolyte, graphite, and a transparent surface, which produce a dye-sensitized solar cell and a concrete that acts as an electrode. Applications in the construction industry include façade elements, wall systems, and prefabricated building components. [CleanTechnica]