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NEW AGE PRODUCTS

April 2016

From engineered timber to self-healing bio-concrete, new cutting edge materials enable building the structures of the future.

Modern architects embrace simplicity and straightforward designs, with intelligent use of materials. As much as incorporating natural light into interior spaces, the use of brick and steel, organic materials like wood and natural stone is the hallmark of modern construction and interiors. Usage of the latest materials and innovations is the way to push the envelope and redefine industry benchmarks.

“In our daily lives we take so many things for granted, we don’t give thought to the amount of research and technology that goes into identifying, adapting and innovating materials for our environments. From floor surfaces that do not get wet and self-cleaning glass, to the way we can now use engineered timber, things are constantly evolving,” says Simon Chua, Co-Founder & Director of Lead 8, a Hong Kong-based architecture and design studio with a reputation for fusing creative thinking.

According to Chua, one of the latest developments in timber construction is the introduction of hybrid CLT systems, which involve pairing engineered timber with steel components. “These new types of engineered timber are stronger and more stable than regular wood, and we see them becoming increasingly popular because they make more complex forms possible. The advantages are that CLT can be prefabricated in a factory to any shape or dimension, and it is much lighter than its steel and concrete counterparts. Perhaps, timber skyscrapers are now a real prospect,” he says.

“Even if the world is not quite ready yet, wood is a sustainable, attractive material that offers quality and speed of construction,” Chua adds.

Self-sustaining materials

Another major innovation in construction is self-healing concrete. “Conventional concrete is vulnerable to cracks, and over time, this can become dangerous and expensive. Self-healing concrete, developed by scientists at Delft University in the Netherlands, uses live bacteria — mixed into the concrete before it is poured — to seal up those fractures,” David Coward, Senior Architectural Designer at Lead 8, told Cityscape Architecture. According to Coward, applications for this could include pavements, building foundations, and other architectural structures.

Meanwhile, self-cleaning glass technology has evolved significantly over recent times. It consists of coating ordinary glass with a thin layer of titanium dioxide, which changes the contact angle made between the glass and a drop of water. This makes the glass hydrophilic, meaning instead of running down the window in rivulets, leaving unsightly streaks behind, the water washes the whole pane clean. The applications are many and varied from façades to interiors.

The past few years have also seen a flurry of two-dimensional material discoveries, first with graphene, and more recently with transition metal dichalcogenides (TMDs) such as molybdenum disulphide (MoS2), and now black phosphorus. ETFE, a fluorine-based plastic, designed to have high corrosion resistance and strength over a wide temperature range is gaining popularity. “As well as being lightweight and environmentally-friendly, it is also self-cleansing, recyclable and offers us freedom in architectural forms. ETFE is also cost effective and safe – there are no fire issues,” says Lead 8’s Chua, who has used ETFE at the Parc Central project in Guangzhou.

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