Waste-free 3D-printed Concrete
Mania Aghaei Meibodi, architecture professor and director of the DART Laboratory at the Univeristy of Michigan, and her in-house research team have created Shell Wall: a lightweight, structurally sound 3D-printed concrete wall system that is waste-free. This new development in 3D concrete printing produces less byproduct waste than conventionally manufactured concrete. According to an article from University of Michigan News, it's also more cost-effective than using traditional concrete because it allows professionals to source the exact amount they need for their project. "[It] eliminates unnecessary overbuilding with excessive amounts of materials," said Aghaei Meibodi, who created the system alongside colleagues Alireza Bayramvand and Yuxin Lin. “All of these factors combined mean that we can build better, more environmentally friendly structures at a lower cost.”

Shell Wall can support its caseload thanks to a grid of curved, load-bearing ribs that range from 65 to 150 millimeters in diameter and non-load-bearing pieces that sit between each rib measuring between 6.5 and 8 centimeters deep. It weighs 160 kilograms, which is 72% lighter than a customary concrete wall of the same size. [University of Michigan News]

The Hyper Recycling and Repurposing of Materials and Surfaces

A kitchen renovation by CAN architecture studio that features recycled and repurposed materials and surfaces.
Jim Stephenson A kitchen renovation by CAN architecture studio that features recycled and repurposed materials and surfaces.

According to a BBC article on sustainable home building, recycling and repurposing materials is becoming more popular. Recycling materials can require some processing and refers to transforming an item into something new. Repurposing, according to BBC, denotes reusing an item or material, oftentimes, more than once. Mat Barnes, director of London-based architecture studio CAN, adopted these two approaches to renovate his south London residence. For example, instead of opting for luxe materials such as marble in the kitchen's redesign, old cupboard doors, countertops, microwave food trays, plastic cutting boards, and bottle tops were recycled and used throughout the space in new ways; floating wall shelves were crafted from recycled materials. Barnes sourced UK-based recycling company Smile Plastics’ panels, made from food waste materials, to form the kitchen’s vibrant cabinet and countertop surfaces. "They're like exaggerated surreal marble," Barnes told BBC about the recycled materials used in his kitchen. "We chose them for their aesthetic, we weren't compromising our look by going for something sustainable." [BBC]

AI and Real-time Data During Floods

Flooding from Hurricane Harvey in 2017
U.S. Air National Guard photo by Staff Sgt. Daniel J. Martinez Flooding from Hurricane Harvey in 2017

The World Health Organization says floods are the world's most common natural disaster. A professor of construction science at Texas A&M University, Amir Behzadan is developing a system to help first responders and authorities during these events. This invention will collect, organize, and relay real-time flooding data and analysis to users. “When it comes to disaster impact, there are ‘data deserts’—large areas in our communities in which we have very little information about the likelihood and extent of damage,” Behzadan told Texas A&M. “If this data is available, informed decisions can be made about immediate needs like search and rescue, as well as longer-term needs such as debris cleanup, economic recovery efforts, and where insurance companies can focus.”

Current flood-gathering devices rely on mathematical equations and models, which can sometimes spew inaccurate information, Behzadan says. He and his team—which includes Michelle Meyer, director of the Hazard Reduction and Recovery Center, a group that studies natural disasters and how they affect built environments; and Courtney Thompson and Zhe Zhang, both Texas A&M assistant professors of geography—are working on a mobile interface that will allow users to take a photo of floodwaters on their cellular device and upload it to BluPix, a crowdsourcing platform also developed by the team. From there, artificial intelligence will compare the submitted photo with Google’s Street View of the same location and determine the depth and severity of the flooding. [Texas A&M University]

The History of Solar Energy

A new PBS American Experience documentary entitled “The Sun Queen” covers the life and accomplishments of Mária Telkes, the 20th-century physicist who devoted her professional life to advancing solar energy technology. Aptly nicknamed the Sun Queen, Telkes was a researcher with MIT’s Solar Energy Conversation Project—a group of scientists assembled to find innovative ways to harness the power of the sun—and the inventor of a solar-powered still, a water distillation apparatus that could produce around 40 gallons of drinkable water per day. She is perhaps most well-known for her 1948 Dover Sun House project in Dover, Mass., where she collaborated with architect Eleanor Raymond and philanthropist Amelia Peabody to build a house that was powered and heated entirely by the sun.

“The Sun Queen,” which is available for streaming, was produced and directed by Amanda Pollak. In a Q&A with ARCHITECT about the film, Pollak explains Mária Telkes's contributions to science and technology, the history of solar, and why the landscape of solar energy efficiency in the U.S. hasn't progressed exponentially since the 1940s. [ARCHITECT]

Bio-based Glues

Bio-based glue
Courtesy of IKEA IKEA is using a bio-based glue made from corn to make particle boards used in its furnishings.

IKEA announced that it will cease using fossil-based glues when manufacturing particle boards for its furnishings and adopt bio-based glues that, the company hopes, will reduce greenhouse gas emissions from glue by 30% by 2030, according to a press release on IKEA's website. So far, an IKEA factory in Lithuania is the first location to use a bio-based glue made from corn.

”As glue in board materials stands for 5% of the climate footprint of the IKEA value chain, this makes a big impact and a key step towards contributing to limiting global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius. Together with increasing recycled wood use and striving towards 100% renewable energy in production, this is a milestone in our journey of making our wood-based products more sustainable”, said Andreas Rangel Ahrens, Head of Climate at Inter IKEA Group, in the release. [IKEA]

Reducing the Carbon Footprint of Concrete Manufacturing

courtesy MIT

Conventional concrete is a valuable construction material. It’s strong and easy to manufacture. A research team at MIT that includes civil and environmental engineering professors Franz-Josef Ulm and Admir Masic; postdoctoral student Damian Stefaniuk; doctoral student Marcin Hajduczek; and James Weaver of the Wyss Institute at Harvard University found that introducing sodium bicarbonate—more commonly known as baking soda—into the concrete manufacturing process could reduce the amount of carbon dioxide released into the atmosphere.

“Our new discovery could further be combined with other recent innovations in the development of lower carbon footprint concrete admixtures to provide much greener, and even carbon-negative construction materials for the built environment, turning concrete from being a problem to a part of a solution,” researcher Admir Masic told MIT. [MIT News]

An Eco-Conscious Makeover

A 119-year-old Tudor home redesigned by Wilder Architecture in Chicago that puts sustainability at the forefront
Michael Lipman A 119-year-old Tudor home redesigned by Wilder Architecture in Chicago that puts sustainability at the forefront

Brent Widler, the founder of Chicago-based firm Widler Architecture, was tasked with transforming a 119-year-old Tudor home called the Byron House, located on the north side of Chicago, into a more modern, environmentally conscious residence. Low-emissivity windows, automated systems, fresh air exchanges, and weather sealing are some of the home’s new eco-friendly features—all of which reduced the home’s electricity use by more than 20% compared to a standard home, according to an article from Builder.

During construction, the project team made sure to source locally wherever possible and was able to recycle 92% of the building materials leftover from construction. Materials were diverted from landfills through a deliberate recycling initiative that included donating to a local reuse center. Tradespeople who worked on the project used scraps whenever they could to avoid undue waste.

“Despite the massive remodel, the structure’s details still pay homage to its original design to coordinate well within the neighborhood and community,” stated the U.S. Green Building Council, which rated the project LEED Platinum, in the Builder article. “Their ability to maintain their property’s historic charm while boosting its sustainable attributes and incorporating green technology is a template for how sustainable residential projects can transform blocks, neighborhoods, and entire cities.” [Builder]

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