Posted: Wed, November 28, 2012 | By:
by Wilfredo Mendez Vazquez
... fabricating a monster. If the building can heal, if the building can grow, and if the building can even move, then it is no longer a building.”
Presently, important concerns on the future of product’s design, building architecture, and city planning have become part of the daily basis discussion. Ecology, energy efficiency, pollution and sustainability have leaded important forum’s topics for the last years. However, the current approach to those issues is insufficient in order to generate the desired environmental outcomes for the future. Directly linked to those topics are the Climate change effects over nature’s behavior and the built environment. In the last years, storms, floods, earthquakes and tsunamis have become more frequent and stronger around the globe. Therefore, resiliency rapidly became an attractive parameter to be incorporated into the sustainability theory. However, such resiliency is still conceived from an industrial production perspective becoming a market brand instead of a proactive ecological parameter.
In response, contemporary designers are turning to nature and biology searching for innovative solutions to ecology and resiliency in order to define sensible architecture with the environment and its inputs (including all natural hazards). The Caribbean is one of a kind context on Earth for the exploration on resilient architecture. The zone is subjected to floods throughout the year due to its tropical weather; furthermore, it is located in the most active hurricane alley of the planet. Before hitting New York this year, hurricane Sandy left 11 deaths in Cuba, 9 in Haiti and 1 in Jamaica . In Cuba, the sea penetrates up to 35 meters in the city of Santiago causing devastation on numerous buildings . At the other hand, the Caribbean is an active seismic zone within the activity of two tectonic plates capable to produce major earthquakes with magnitude 8.0 or greater. The catastrophic 2010 Haiti earthquake left more than 220,000 people killed and more than 300,000 injured . Such evidence demonstrates the vulnerability, not just of the Caribbean, but also of its planning and architectural design. Evidently, such kind of architecture and city planning that is unresponsive to environmental inputs is not sustainable.
Biology could be a great source of inspiration on innovative resilient parameters for sensible architecture. From a biological perspective, speak about resiliency is being speaking about regenerative designs. A regenerative design implies some living features for environmental adaptation thru tectonic optimization. Growth, healing, energy production and movement are some features that help organisms to achieve resiliency for their environmental adaptation. What would happen if those biological parameters were attributed to architecture?
Based on technologies currently being developed on biotechnology, 3D bio-printing and nanotechnology, architects would be able to upgrade buildings providing them with biological features intrinsic to its material composition, structure and morphology. Such building upgrading could be well named as transtectonic architecture. Surfaces able to metabolize with their context and its compounds, responsive structures, and self-assembly morphologies will be the sustainable reality of the future. Due to its biological properties, transtectonic architecture will be intrinsically related to ecosystems and in symbiosis with its ecological cycle of life. In opposition to current buildings, transtectonic architecture will be more alive than dead. Hence, cities will be filled with a kind of engineered creatures or monster to live instead of present and sterile buildings type.
For example, Principles of a Bio-tectonic Culture is a thesis developed for the master in architecture degree in Puerto Rico which fosters the upgrading of the paradigmatic concrete structure into a biomimicry-based architectural skeleton . Inspired by the bone’s morphology defined by the Wolff’s law, adapting the material to force, a reinforced concrete structure becomes truly sustainable using half the material whilst more efficient to withstand heavier earthquakes. As the bone morphology, the concrete skeleton adapts to the environmental inputs, the seismic movement for instance. Therefore, the structure morphology was shaped by the earthquake making the form more resilient during the tectonic shake. Actually, there are more biological features that can be attributed to structures using current available technology.
How even more resilient would become this concrete skeleton if could heal its cracks? What if while aging it could grow and become stronger? Limestone, for instance, is a commonly used aggregate for concrete structures in the Caribbean. A fascinating fact is that limestone is a sedimentary rock that can be considered biological because it can actually grow. As well as a bone, limestone is composed mainly by calcium and, as a stalactite, grows due to organic debris accumulated within the rock. This biological behavior is often revealed by the presence of fossils . Therefore, limestone-fabricated bricks would be able to self-heal its cracks.
But rocks aren’t the only materials which can possess biological characteristics. Bamboo, greatly used in Central America, is an organic material capable to withstand floods, landslides, earthquakes and cyclones. Bamboo structures are amazing samples of resilient available architecture with optimum ecological outcomes. Bamboo structures are able to move smoothly during any environmental change on the structure. Its natural deflection permits the structure to adapt in real time to the setting inputs whilst the bamboo anisotropic properties improve its morphology optimization.
Furthermore, some inorganic materials such as metals can actually being provided with some biological features. Inspired by the Diana’s tree principle, crystals of pure silver metal can be grown by electrochemistry. Architecture scientists of the future could be able to design the growing path of such kind of architecture, and then the metal structure will grow throughout the path just as it is alive. The material will grow defined by the environmental inputs optimizing the available resources as a living being.
Transtectonic architecture fosters the upgrading of current buildings considering them the Second Nature of the Future. Transtectonic design aims to redefine the current architectural paradigm into a performance-driven beauty strategy. Such performance will be driven by symbiotic behavior of the built environment with the natural ecosystems. In fact, transtectonic architecture seeks to blur the boundaries between architectural design and biological beings. It is not just to be more sustainable, but for create resilient and safer places to enjoy intrinsically integrated to our planet’s dynamics. Cities of the future could be full of intelligent responsive buildings not fabricated but grown, with self-healing materials and fully sensible with its surroundings.
 This is an excerpt from Wilfredo Mendez M.Arch thesis (2010), Principles of a BioTectonic Culture. University of Puerto Rico thesis.