Sustainable materials for architecture

The use of sustainable materials in architectural construction projects is becoming increasingly popular in 2018. From the creation of soil-based structures, such as adobe buildings, to repurposed materials, architecture is embracing the diversity and affordability offered by the use of sustainable materials. Cross laminated timber, photovoltaic glass for new buildings, repurposed and reclaimed materials are all used more widely in contemporary building projects and are helping to create unique structures that stand out within the built environment.

Using sustainable and environmentally-friendly materials in construction projects is no longer seen to be a costly exercise either as many of the sustainable products on the market are an economical choice, offering durability and a long lifespan. Some of the materials likely to gain popularity in 2018 include:

Cross laminated timber

Laurentian University School of Architecture in Canada

Cross laminated timber (CLT) is a sustainable building material that has a prefabricated structure and has performed well in seismic, thermal and fire tests. CLT has a low impact on the environment and generates very little waste during installation. It is being used with steel cross beams in the building of the Laurentian University School of Architecture in Canada and is already in place at Dalston Lane, Dalston Square in London, where it has been used in the construction of one of the world’s largest CLT projects to create a high-rise block of flats. In December 2017, Dalston Lane was the largest CLT building in the world and is a ten storey apartment complex, providing 121 separate homes. From the first floor upwards the building is fabricated entirely from CLT and all core walls, stairs and floors use this timber. Buildings made with CLT work out up to 30% lighter than traditional buildings with a frame of steel or concrete. The basement and ground floor were constructed of concrete to reduce risk of wood at ground floor level being water damaged. All the wood for the building project was grown in Austria and Germany and the CLT was manufactured in Austria. A total of 2,300 trees were used in the construction of the apartment building.

Repurposed material


Repurposing old material is increasingly popular in the design of new buildings and structures. Repurposed timber, aluminium, steel and plastic add interest to structures and create buildings which are superb examples of environmental friendliness and enhanced sustainability. The David L Lawrence Convention Centre in Pittsburgh, USA features a shiny, recycled steel exterior and is the first convention centre to have been given LEED certification. Repurposed timber is an ideal choice for adding warmth and texture to buildings and can be utilised in a number of ways for modern buildings.

Biomimetic insulation

Developments in insulation are seeing a move away from typical polystyrene and fibreglass insulation, which can have a poor effect on human health. The skin of the polar bear is seen as a natural insulation model which can be imitated to create a non-toxic insulation material that consists of three layers with a furry top layer to the exterior. Plyskin is a product that is currently in development in the Netherlands, while the German company Sto is also developing an insulation material based on polar bear fur. StoSolar will be available for new or existing buildings and is an exterior surface treatment, with a furry finish.

Photovoltaic glass

Photovoltaic glass is becoming increasingly common as a building material and has a number of uses, including cladding (https://www.alsecco.co.uk/rainscreen-cladding-systems/airtec-photovoltaic/), curtain walls, skylights and canopies. Adding photovoltaic glass to buildings helps ensure self sufficiency in the generation of power, so it’s a popular, sustainable choice for new builds that helps cut energy costs on an ongoing basis.

Unmilled wood

There is also a developing trend for using whole trees for trusses and beams within new architectural designs. This unmilled wood has the same strength as steel or concrete, but uses less than 2% of the energy required to fabricate steel or concrete. This is a renewable building material and an example of its use is in the Earth Sciences Building of the University of British Columbia which has won several awards. The Earth Sciences building features a structure of laminated strand lumber and other sustainable wooden building materials. Some of the wood used in this building was upcycled from trees which had been killed by pine beetles and was carved in a fashion that allows natural ventilation and light.

Wool bricks

Wool bricks are another sustainable building material that have been around for a few years now, but their use may be set to take off in 2018. The bricks have been incorporated into the design for St. Mary’s Regional Health Centre in Maine, which is the most prominent public building to use wool bricks to date. Wool bricks contain a mix of wool fibres and seaweed polymers to create bricks which are up to 37% stronger than their clay counterparts.

Younger generation

Our younger generation of architects, town planners and builders is not forgotten in this rush to include sustainable materials in building products. Lego is launching a range of sustainably-sourced plastic models into its building boxes in 2018. The first Lego building models to be created using this sustainable plastic will be the trees and greenery botanical, decorative elements of their range, but these will soon be followed by more additions as Lego has committed to the use of sustainable materials for all models and packaging by the year 2030. These Lego botanical models are fabricated from plastic created using sugar cane and have all the properties of traditional polyethylene products.

Green architecture in Camden London at day

The move to increased use of sustainable materials in architecture has really taken off in recent years and 2018 is set to see even more developments. Sustainable architecture minimises effects of the environmental impact caused by buildings by the use of materials, the provision of energy efficiency and an ecological design that takes full account of the surrounding eco-system and the development space. Our future generations will benefit from the variety of sustainable architectural designs and structures being built in this contemporary era.

Eco Friendly, photovoltaic, Repurposed, Sustainable


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