How mushrooms, old jeans, and used shipping pallets offer sustainable solutions to the architecture of tomorrow.

The world can’t accommodate much more garbage, neither the long-term waste it produces nor the energy needed to build new materials that, to make them, create greenhouse gasses and use precious and non-renewable resources.

But there is hope. There are many examples out there of innovation circumventing traditional waste cycles and creating new materials that are truly sustainable. ETH Zurich’s Department of Architecture and Construction recently published Building from Waste, based on radical examples from around the world of architectural materials sourced from unusual places.

At swissnex San Francisco, we are dedicated to projects around sustainability, architecture, design, urbanism, and green building. That’s why we invited ETH to bring their Building from Waste research and related exhibit to Bay Area audiences and showcase some of the world’s leading projects in this domain.

In preparation for this week of learning, I’ve immersed myself in some of the most compelling examples from the US and elsewhere, many of which are included in Building from Waste. Here are some of the materials we just had to share:

 

Shipping pallets are In

The lowly platform is having its heyday. All over the west, groups are making everything from furniture to a full outdoor stage and pavilion with old and unloved pallets. Like shipping containers, they are finding a new identity in the modern workplace and home.

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The Natural House

Goodbye foam insulation, hello wool and denim. Replace those bricks with straw. And flooring? Laminate has nothing on stone or responsibly farmed woods. UltraTouch insulation is the perfect example of a high quality material (it also offers effective sound absorption) made from cast-off jeans.

A Fungus Amongus
A Fungus Amongus

Ever heard of mycotecture? Yep. San Francisco artist Phillip Ross is repurposing mushroom mycelium for building materials. Within 14-30 days, the fungi he grows digests cellulose and transforms it into a hard compound called chitin that is shatter resistant and can handle compression forces, meaning it can be made into anything from boat buoys to bricks for houses.

For the Love of Geometry

New and emergent materials for the built environment, such as foams and nano materials, are being developed in research labs and interdisciplinary programs such as the one at MIT in the U.S.  These novel next generation products are at the heart of a paradigm shift in architecture right now. Just image how materials that can fold on their own, self assemble, and respond to extreme environments could have some seriously science fiction like uses!

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Forest for the Trees
Forest for the Trees

Wood has long been considered too weak—not to mention flammable—for high rises. But researchers at Cambridge University in England aim to genetically engineer stronger plants with changes at the cellular and molecular level, making wood a viable, sustainable, and sun-fed option for building sky high. This could go a long way toward helping tomorrow’s cities as green as they can be. Photo courtesy of Lend Lease.

 

Live in the Bay Area? Stop by swissnex San Francisco from April 21 – April 25, 2015, to see the Building from Waste exhibit and related events on alternative building materials and upcycling.

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