Innovation in building materials is a must for sustainability


Berkeley St James development at Wood Lane, West London under construction



At Future Cities Forum's 'Net Zero Cities' debate this October, the Infrastructure and Projects Authority, architects Roger Stirk Harbour + Partners and Bath University, tackled the importance of investment into the research and design of innovative materials in order to address the problem of carbon emissions.


The IPA's Head of Commercial Projects Advisory, Stephen Dance, spoke of the importance of using the right materials in construction for sustainability. The IPA has been discussing the need to include the natural world in a place-based approach to infrastructure and the creation of sustainable places:


' There's a massive onus on cities to do this, in Newcastle, Leeds, Manchester, London and other cities too, to look at integrated housing and sustainability plans. What we need from central government is strategic interconnecting infrastructure and the Integrated Rail Plan coming soon will tell us what do we need to do to level up the country.


'When we talk about housing, it is often said that there are too many people and not enough space. Carbon off set will need carbon pricing. Carbon capture and storage is moving at pace now to hit the carbon agenda hard. There are productivity and construction challenges, but there's also a real challenge around using materials. We do need new materials but they have to be safe and work. It would be too easy to jump to a green concrete or steel solution, that in years does not work because it is not tested.'


Partner at RSHP, Stephen Barrett commented in the debate that particularly in airport design, the firm uses sustainable products as much as possible:


'Airports are a real target and as architects we try and make a positive difference such as our airport pier in Geneva, which is energy positive and produces more energy than it consumes. It is important to try to use existing buildings and treat embodied carbon using timber.


'When you are talking about sustainable infrastructure like the IPA is doing, short journeys are part of the equation in cities. There needs to be top down regulatory support to make a difference but societal questions on sustainability come into play when you are talking about car use for those who do not live in urban centres. Our study of Paris and the motorways around shows that this could be transformed with linear amenities and energy parks and a significant amount of greening.'


Bath University's Dr Juliana Calabria- Holley joined the discussion to talk about the use of new technologies and how they are being developed to create sustainable building materials:


'One area of my research is making current materials more durable using Nano-technology. We don't have to always knock buildings down. New technology doesn't mean you get rid of everything. But time is crucial. You need time to make new materials viable and use equipment to accelerate making new materials safely. There is a lot of misinformation around about new materials and we need to get the right messages across.


'We need more research in this area. We get materials from all over the world which adds to the overall carbon footprint. We have to ask ourselves how much energy you need to run a building and it is all down to fabric. We are producing concrete on a massive scale and we use materials regardless of climate or location. There are materials that are more porous and able to regulate heat by themselves, thereby controlling the humidity inside buildings. Too often because of globalisation we react in terms of what is in fashion.


'Natural building materials like timber are more carbon efficient but they are less durable than concrete. Nano-technology has enabled us to increase durability and use materials more sustainably and more efficiently. Materials are core to everything. We talk about place-making, but I do think we need to give more attention to the actual building blocks.'


Bath University's concrete laboratory allows for research into the characterisation and materials development of novel cements, while work is also carried out into the development of fibre-reinforced polymers for repair and strengthening of existing concrete structures.


Research is also carried out at the University into thermal conductivity on novel insulation materials and the various transient properties for the development of phase change materials. Environmental chambers are used to simulate a range of wall build-ups to investigate their full hydrothermal performance.


Below: Aile Est, Geneva Airport (1:1200 presentation model by RSHP)




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