Alternative Construction Materials

Developing a radical paradigm shift from a mining-based mentality towards one grounded in cultivating, recycling, farming, and even growing future construction materials

For detailed information please refer to http://www.hebel.arch.ethz.ch/

 

The FCL Magazine Special Issue “Constructing Alternatives – Research Projects 2012-2015” can be downloaded here.

 

As urban populations grow so does the demand for materials and resources to support them. Where such resource demands were once satisfied by local and regional hinterlands, they are increasingly global in scale and reach. This phenomenon has generated materials flows that are trans-continental and planetary in scope, and has profound consequences for the sustainability, functioning, sense of ownership and identity of future cities. This phenomenon presents challenges for the local identity of places, as well as the appropriate allocation, efficient use, and ownership of material resources.

 

The Professorship of Architecture and Construction at FCL Singapore concentrates its research on alternative construction materials and their application in specific contextual settings, taking into account the availability of materials, human resource capacities, and skills. The ‘alternative’ aspect of this focus emerges from an exploration of innovative and entrepreneurial thinking. Seen from this perspective, the project for urban sustainability must be global in ambition, but cannot be a matter of applying a universal set of rules. Rather, sustainability requires a decentralised approach that both acknowledges the global dimension and is sensitive to the social, cultural, aesthetic, economic, and ecological capacities of particular places to thrive and endure.

 

Major research projects currently under investigation include:

 

Advanced Fiber Composite Materials

It is the declared aim of the research to establish fiber composite materials as a future and alternative building material in developing territories of our planet. The research under way investigates the mechanical properties of natural fibers and how to control them in order to achieve desired characteristics for the use as a construction material replacing steel and wood and also to use it as a reinforcement system in concrete applications. The team established the ‘Advanced Fiber Composite Laboratory’ in Singapore, where they are able to produce and test new fiber reinforcement materials at the same time.

 

Constructing Waste

“The future city makes no distinction between waste and supply”(J. Mitchell, 2014). Waste is a result of any human action and interaction, bringing raw natural materials – understood so far as our sole form of resources – from one stage of being into another, by applying various forms of skills and energy. In this sense, waste was seen for centuries as something specific which neither belonged to the family of natural resources nor to the one of finished products. But waste could also be understood as an integral part of what we define as a resource. This metabolic thinking understands our built environment as an interim stage of material storage. The research aims to develop ideas on how to activate waste as a building material. The abundance of refuse is the essential hypothesis of the research. In October 2014, a book by the Assistant Professorship was published with Birkhäuser publishers called “Building from Waste” which introduces around 100 examples and projects how to transform waste into a resource for the building industry.

 

Sand – Alternatives

Sand is the most used raw material for production of goods of our planet. It is found in concrete, glass, computers, detergents and even toothpaste. But sand is a finite resource: what took millions of years to become into being through erosion and sedimentation, man is mining at rivers and ocean coasts in a so-far unknown speed. In a matter of a few decades, sand will not be a resource anymore for our construction activities. The research tries to find ways how to activate alternatives to sand to act as a new resource for the building industry.

 

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Alternative Construction materials