Increased attention has been drawn to materials specified by architects, and not just from those who have a vested interest in building design. With the commercial and residential building sector accounting for 39 per cent of CO2 emissions in the United States per year, building owners, occupants and the public are also showing interest in building materials that are not only aesthetically pleasing but safe for the planet.

Exploring the future of building materials

There are some obvious sustainability characteristics relating to certain products, but it goes far deeper than what’s on the surface. The actual green values that influence a product can be quite complicated, as it’s no longer simply about saving water and energy. As interest in sustainable building materials grows, so has perspective. According to the AIA in its Materials Matter initiative:

It’s natural for designers to evaluate a material’s impact while a product is serving its useful purpose in a building, but that only accounts for a portion of the complete life of the product. All materials impact human health and the environment at every life stage, from extraction, to manufacturing and construction, through its useful life, and on to recycling or disposal.

Wellness architecture, the practice of designing with the impact on the health of building occupants, has also been a major trend. The DesignWell conference that took place this past January in San Diego is claimed by its organizers to be the first event of its kind to focus solely on human health and performance in the built environment. This brings enhancement of indoor air quality with toxin-free materials and incorporating plants and nature in design, among other considerations, into play.

Sustainability in nature

Biomimetic architecture is also a hot topic. According to Wikipedia, biometric architecture is “a contemporary philosophy of architecture that seeks solutions for sustainability in nature, not by replicating the natural forms, but by understanding the rules governing those forms. It is a multi-disciplinary approach to sustainable design that follows a set of principles rather than stylistic codes.” For example, see Arch2o’s coverage of the Esplanade Theatre in Singapore, which features a facade that mimics the protective skin of the durian plant. The exterior of the building adjusts throughout the day according to sunlight patterns.

StoCoat Lotusan exterior coating

The StoCoat Lotusan exterior coating possesses a highly water-repellent surface similar to that of the lotus leaf. Its microstructure has been modeled on the lotus plant to minimize the contact area for water and dirt. The surface additionally offers enhanced hydrophobic properties.

Practical considerations

Materials selection gets far more complicated when practical considerations arise. With product quality, project budget, and client desires all being major considerations, the options become much narrower. According to ArchDaily:

Once the initial design stage has passed, the architect begins the journey of choosing the brands that will make her work come to life. In order to obtain a result that meets the expected quality, architects would naturally choose the products with the highest standards and recognition. However, budgets are usually (ok, almost always) limited and depend on the client, not the architect. Given this, the key to choosing the product will lie in its profitability—and this doesn’t necessarily have to do with price, but with the fact that installation is as fast and simple as possible.

With no shortage of options on the drafting table, check out these seven recent material trends with the capacity to help change the carbon balance, and this incredible infographic containing 10 innovative construction materials that have been developed by world-leading researchers.