According to Peters, “innovation comes from the combination of raw materials, structural assembly and construction technologies. One example is a composite bamboobased material developed by Dirk E. Hebel with the Future Cities Laboratory in Singapore, which makes it possible to create sheets to use in place of reinforced concrete or steel. Or the 36mm sandwich panel from the company Conbou, made with sliced rings of bamboo assembled with natural glue, offering the same load-bearing strength as a sheet of 6mm steel. Hollow structures are being developed, with internal skeletons, to permit less use of material and greater lightness. Many applications are in the field of construction and furniture design.
“The innovation triggered by technology happens in the area of 3D printing. Affordable machinery now exists to make it possible to create pieces longer than one meter. Big prospects are opening up in the architecture sector, involving not only production of custom pieces without scrap, but also the possibility of making parts on site using industrial robots (the RoboFold project). The designer Daniel Buening has developed a load-bearing column for architecture using digital printing, whose internal cell structure can reach a height of eight meters.
“Though it still seems like a distant possibility, in the future materials derived from organic growth processes will be quite feasible. Designers and chemical companies are developing variations and applications, like the EcoCradle foam made from mushrooms, which holds together organic waste materials without the use of petroleum-base glues. The fungi transform the cellulose or wood parts in the natural components, which therefore bond together.
Likewise, the Delft University of Technology has developed a cement containing bacteria that in the case of cracking of the material during construction, or in conditions of water seepage, activate the production of calcite to seal the cracks. There could be many different uses, some of which are still to be hypothesized. Lots of research is now being conducted by the packaging industry, due to the clear advantages of using biodegradable materials.
“In the home – Peters explains – the trend is toward greater use of materials free of petrochemical substances. The theme of reduction, however, is not limited to the quantity of resources and materials used, but also to the number of physical objects. We are seeing the integration of functions in ‘smart materials’ or ‘smart surfaces’ that are capable, for example, of conducting electricity, thus incorporating technologies and becoming multifunctional. Reducing the bulk and number of objects in the home is a must, especially if we consider growing countries like China or India, where the habitat model of old Europe is no longer sustainable.