Green Revo­lu­tion

Moss in The Bronx: The new­est trend in Ar­chi­tec­ture

Industry Leaders - - Content Features -

Modern ar­chi­tec­ture is un­touched by cul­ture. It is, in a cer­tain sense. Where are those old gran­ite build­ings with an emer­ald moss and sil­ver lichen grow­ing on their shore­ward walls? In­hale them and you can re­call what? Any­thing but rot­ten, such as pure na­ture from par­tial im­mer­sion of mus­sels, fungi and moss. The fact is, na­ture is un­ex­ploited vis­ually and com­mer­cially. It needs fresh air. Most ar­chi­tects think other­wise. Fungi, moss and lichen grow­ing on the façade of a build­ing is a sign of

de­cay. You see, build­ing ma­te­ri­als are de­signed specif­i­cally to re­sist growth of micro­organ­isms. So much ef­fort is put into de­vel­op­ing bio­cides to make sure the con­crete and wood and bricks are never col­o­nized by liv­ing things. Times are chang­ing now, for plants and lichens on a con­crete wall might turn out to be a sign of so­phis­ti­ca­tion.

Biota Lab at Univer­sity Col­lege Lon­don’s Bartlett School of Ar­chi­tec­ture has de­vel­oped an in­no­va­tive wall-panel sys­tem ca­pa­ble of host­ing micro­organ­isms and nur­tur­ing bio-col­o­niza­tion di­rectly from the pores on its sur­face, with­out the need for soil and as­so­ci­ated ir­ri­ga­tion sys­tems. The novel de­sign en­gi­neer­ing method seeks to im­prove façade per­for­mance through im­ple­men­ta­tion of a new type of bi­o­log­i­cally re­cep­tive

con­crete. The mul­ti­lay­ered panel sys­tem in­tends to over­come many of the lim­i­ta­tions of ex­ist­ing green walls, par­tic­u­larly the need for ex­pen­sive maintenance.

The so-called bi­o­log­i­cal con­crete is de­signed to sup­port the growth of mosses, fungi, and lichens.

Un­like green roofs and ver­ti­cal gar­dens, the green walls are made out of a special type of ce­ment: mag­ne­sium phos­phate ce­ment (MPC), which has slight acid­ity and sup­ports bi­o­log­i­cal growth.

The de­sign team from Bartlett’s School re­cently ex­hib­ited their in­no­va­tion as a part of the Su­per­ma­te­rial ex­hi­bi­tion at The Build­ing Cen­ter in Lon­don. The ex­hi­bi­tion aimed at show­cas­ing how ma­te­ri­als will trans­form our re­la­tion­ship to both nat­u­ral and built en­vi­ron­ments, and bio-con­crete fit right in.

The ul­ti­mate aim to de­velop bio­con­crete was to tran­scend ex­ist­ing lim­i­ta­tions in cre­at­ing a green

wall. For in­stance, the me­chan­i­cal ir­ri­ga­tion sys­tems and other ex­pen­sive maintenance that are re­quired to keep ex­ist­ing green walls func­tional, not to men­tion the high level of ex­pen­sive as­so­ci­ated with the ini­tial im­ple­men­ta­tion. Ad­di­tion­ally, ex­ist­ing green wall sys­tems demon­strate a low in­te­gra­tion be­tween struc­tures and the liv­ing or­gan­isms that grow on them.

Bio-con­crete is one way to re­spond to the ur­gency of im­prov­ing the qual­ity of air in our heav­ily pol­luted cities. Cli­mate change, in­creas­ing lev­els of pol­lu­tion and shift­ing biomes has re­sulted in an on­go­ing ef­fort of mak­ing cities greener and more sus­tain­able. In the past century, we’ve only fo­cused on build­ings green roofs and façades, as an op­por­tu­nity for green­ing. The big­gest draw­back is that such ‘green walls’ have proven ex­pen­sive to im­ple­ment and man­age. Even worse, it has failed to ad­dress the in­creas­ing loss of cryp­togamic sur­faces, which have passed un­no­ticed in our cities.

The mag­ne­sium phos­phate ce­ment de­vel­oped at Biota Lab will al­low mi­cro-

ma­te­rial to cre­ate mossy build­ings.

The in­no­va­tive ma­te­rial is not com­mer­cially avail­able yet, but it prom­ises in­nu­mer­able ben­e­fits, in­clud­ing the re­duc­tion of green­house gases from the en­vi­ron­ment and more. The most com­pelling of all rea­sons to adopt the use of such ma­te­ri­als is that it could ex­hibit an ex­traor­di­nar­ily beau­ti­ful patina that trans­forms through all the four sea­sons of the year.

Ar­chi­tects talk about the skin of a build­ing like it’s a liv­ing, breath­ing thing. It’s a metaphor used ev­ery­day in com­pletely dif­fer­ent ways. The de­sign team at Biota wants peo­ple to think of the ex­te­rior of a build­ing as tree bark. It’s not just a pro­tec­tive layer – it’s a host. It al­lows liv­ing things to grow on it, and thrive as well. Barks are me­di­a­tors be­tween the in­ter­nal con­di­tions of a tree in which all kinds of species re­side. Biore­cep­tive ma­te­ri­als can al­low micro­organ­isms to grow on the façade and en­rich the layer with a thriv­ing ecol­ogy. Be­sides, there are no con­cerns such as liv­ing walls full of plants or green roofs need­ing maintenance. Un­like cur­rent sys­tems such as ‘ ver­ti­cal gar­dens’, the biore­cep­tive con­crete sup­ports life on its own sur­face, mean­ing there is no need for com­plex sup­port struc­tures. That’s an­other way of sav­ing plenty of money.

Let ar­chi­tec­ture speak of the times we are liv­ing in right now. Let the com­mon man know what ar­chi­tec­ture is

and how it helps hu­man civ­i­liza­tion. At the mo­ment, our great­est need is to com­bat cli­mate change and re­duce global warm­ing. This is the time when ar­chi­tec­ture must come and lay its ser­vices at the feet of the civ­i­liza­tion.

Even to­day, the idea of in­clud­ing na­ture within a city is pretty much a for­eign con­cept. It’s some­thing that ex­ists from the 18th century and way back, and yet we’re un­able to put it to its full po­ten­tial use to com­bat the big­gest chal­lenges of all. Why use na­ture as a dec­o­ra­tive el­e­ment, as a way to soften the look of a build­ing, when we can use it to con­nect peo­ple with na­ture in the ut­most pro­found way?

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