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The urban bio-loop: growing, making and regenerating building materials

Use of renewable and local resources is becoming increasingly important for the building industry, given that construction is associated with significant amount of resource depletion and carbon emissions. Focusing on the life cycle of building systems and components, it is evident that architectural finishes in particular are being disposed of only after few years, creating significant amounts of waste.

One of the ways to address this challenge is by enabling a circular model, in which local plants can be utilised for architectural products. Once they reach their end of life, they can be fed back into the biological cycle.

 

This research reviewed the possibility of building materials production from plants and other biomaterials available in the urban environment, on a city district level.  A case study of available technologies and products obtained from use of local resources has been developed. Several criteria were taken into account including resource potential, building scale, applicability and manufacturing complexity. Some of the identified materials are used in a quite straightforward way while others can be used as a raw material in more sophisticated manufacturing processes, including 3D printing.

 

Within this project we identified several natural materials, together with their potential applications for the built environment. This information can be used to provide technical advice on the potential to replace some of the unsustainable architectural products with equivalents to which the rules of circular economy apply. It offers the possibility to consider the extent to which urban districts can become self-sustaining through active implementation of natural materials that can be sourced and produced locally, thereby contributing to local economic development.

The outcomes of this project are useful to architects and product designers and they also inform experts concerned with the environmental impacts, resource efficiency, waste management, urban planning and economic well-being of the communities.

Knowledge gathered in this project deepens Arup´s expertise in the design and engineering of biomaterials and defines potential applications at the building scale. The introduction of natural materials, either recyclable or biodegradable, on a large scale is expected to significantly reduce the amount of waste produced, diverting it from landfill. Additionally, considering the opportunities for sourcing locally available materials will stimulate development of self-sustaining urban districts. Such approach also has socio-economic impact: it engages local communities and offers possibilities for small-business creation.