Construction materials, along with better understanding on construction technology, are at the heart of how we are going to change the construction industry forever. Whether it’s more sustainable materials or materials with greater levels of resistance to the elements. These are shape shifting materials!
Shape shifting materials have multiple forms and applications.
Whether we are talking about liquid metals or environmentally triggered kinetic materials, these ingenious innovations are changing the way we think about building.
For a clear timeline on shape shifting materials we need to start with a humble woody little fruit from millions of years ago: The pine cone.
"We need to start with the humble pine cone when we think about kinetic materials and shape shifting building supplies."
What makes pine cones special is how they react to water, closing when they are wet and opening when dry. Pine cones aren’t the only shape shifting organism affected by its environment, but they are what have gone on to inspire innovations in this area.
Ultimately, one of the biggest battles for the construction industry is the effect of weather on buildings. We have spent thousands of years building fortresses against the elements, but in recent years we have begun to look at how construction and building supplies can work with the elements.
Metal is perhaps one of the most exciting opportunities for kinetic materials to be explored.
Currently in development, earthquake resistant shape shifting metals could be the future of construction. Especially in parts of the US and Asia where earthquakes are a regular cause for concern.
The Georgia Institute of technology has been working hard on the application of muscle memory metals in skyscrapers and other at-risk buildings.
Reginald DesRoches, a professor of the School of Civil and Environmental Engineering at Georgia Tech, had this to say: “Shape-memory alloys exhibit unique characteristics that you would want for earthquake-resistant building and bridge design and retrofit applications: they have the ability to dissipate significant energy without significant degradation or permanent deformation.” [Photo Credit: Create Digital]
Essentially what these metals will do is move with the quake, changing it’s structure to support the force against the building. Then over a short period of time it will adjust itself back to its original shape using muscle memory.
There are as you can imagine some difficulties and some kinks to work out, but if the team at Georgia can crack it, this will be a huge development in the construction of skyscrapers and the future of earthquake resistant buildings. It’s application could save thousands of lives if they can get it right!
"The application of shape shifting metals in the construction of skyscrapers could save thousands of lives."
Even self healing concrete is technically a shape shifting building material. The use of bacteria in the cement mixing process allows rainwater to react with the concrete to heal itself. It’s fascinating stuff!
It’s not just materials that are being designed to withstand and move with the effects of weather. Architects and engineers have worked tirelessly on kinetic buildings to improve the quality of life for its residents and to reduce the impact of pollution and the elements.
From designs by 1930’s architects Angelo Invernizzi and Ettore Fagiuoli like the experimental two-storey house that rotated on circular tracks to the Al Bahr Towers. These gorgeous 25 storey buildings in Abu Dhabi, feature the world's largest sun-responsive facade shades. Also known as Mashrabiya, the geometric screen protects the occupants of the tower from the intense sunlight of Abu Dhabi.
"Kinetic construction ranges from designs by 1930’s architects Angelo Invernizzi and Ettore Fagiuoli like the experimental two-storey house that rotated on circular tracks to the Al Bahr Towers."
On the whole, the benefits of these kinetic buildings is the environment in which the occupant lives. But in the case of structures like the Rossi house, there is also practicality involved. Such as being able to achieve the greatest energy efficiency from the sun beating down on its solar panels.
We still have a long way to go with regard to shapeshifting buildings and construction supplies. The benefits though could be huge. Whether it's saving lives in areas prone to earthquakes or improving the quality of life for residents and office workers, it's all good with shape shifting materials.
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