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What Design Innovations Are Shaping Tomorrow's Resilient Buildings?

April 18, 2024
Here’s what some design professionals focus on when planning future resilient buildings.

Resilient buildings are increasingly in demand, especially with more areas of the world experiencing climate-change-exacerbated disasters. However, numerous professionals focus on resilient building design, resulting in many fascinating innovations and trends. Which ones should you watch for in the coming months and years?

Resilient Building Design Informed by Living Materials

Some design professionals have explored feasible solutions combining both living and engineered materials. This work could result in durable products well-suited for the construction industry and other demanding needs.

One Montana State University researcher is focusing her work on bones, which she hopes to eventually integrate into building materials. She points out that they offer a lifetime of mechanical functionality, often without failure. They also have excellent load-bearing properties.

One challenge is that designers must figure out how to keep bone cells alive once used in resilient buildings. Additionally, most of the work centered on combining living and engineered materials has so far involved achievements with relatively low load-bearing capacities.

Progress in resilient building design is also happening at Michigan State University. There, a team has recently received a $2 million federal grant to further research in biomaterials that could repair themselves and capture carbon. Although the former feature applies best to resilient buildings, the carbon sequestration potential is also appealing.

More specifically, the work involves developing 3D printing materials that contain and support microbes, allowing them to repair buildings and pull carbon from the atmosphere. The team will explore incorporating sustainable biomass—including agricultural waste—into the 3D printing materials. The lignin and cellulose in those materials could support resilient building design by improving structural integrity. Next, the group will look for microscopic fungi and bacteria to add to the printing ink.

Growing Interest in Climate-Adaptive Buildings and Communities

Many scientists have warned people to expect more extreme weather due to climate change. Some trends in resilient building design reflect that information. In one example, a research team created an adaptive roof tile that responds to outdoor temperatures and begins to heat or cool the building depending on present needs. This is still a proof-of-concept device, but once it reaches about 65 degrees Fahrenheit, the roof tile exposes a sunlight-absorbing surface that minimizes heat dissipation through radiation.

In another instance, researchers created a color-changing coating that reflects up to 93% of the sun’s radiation once a coated surface reaches 86 degrees Fahrenheit. Tests showed the coating worked exceptionally well during the spring and autumn, responding to wide temperature fluctuations during single days.

Elsewhere, a Concordia University researcher has turned her attention to climate-resilient neighborhoods. She prioritizes equipping local communities to cope with collectively experienced issues. One way is to invest in renewable energy. Solar panels increase the sustainability and cost-saving potential of buildings that have them.

However, this researcher is also interested in increasing energy resilience through thoughtful design. One possibility explored in her recent research paper was to urge municipal authorities to design disaster-ready buildings. She wants those structures to become self-sufficient energy producers with improved features. For example, redesigned buildings that become temporary shelters ideally would safely fit more people while promoting high air quality and providing sanitary cooking spaces.

The research also expands into community design, such as improving access for emergency vehicles, creating better evacuation routes and reserving space for renewable energy equipment. This work and other efforts like it will undoubtedly be useful as people explore how resilient buildings fit into a warming future.  

Design Teams Look to Create Resilient, Fire-Resistant Buildings

Using passive fire protections in buildings to safeguard the structure and its contents is already widespread. However, some designers feel they must take their efforts to the next level. Wildfires are becoming more common in many areas, leading people to investigate resilient building design options that can withstand the blazes.

One possibility comes from a 3D printing company designing wildfire-resistant homes in California. Concrete and industrial 3D printers are the main tools to construct these three-bedroom, two-bathroom homes. People associated with the company say this method allows for faster home-building methods and opens opportunities for energy-efficient and resource-conservative abodes.

Accidents and hazards are prevalent in the construction industry, even when people take the appropriate precautions. For example, there are two main safeguard categories of equipment to prevent falls or minimize their effects. However, even when people benefit from those, they could still drop objects from heights, injuring parties on the ground. Many advocates believe 3D printing will significantly reduce construction-related mishaps because this method fundamentally changes the creation of homes and other buildings, allowing the work to happen with fewer risks.

Another example of a fire-ready structure came from an architecture firm that made a creation geared toward outdoor adventurers. Campers’ accidents cause some wildfires, but these blazes can also pose dangers if people on camping trips don’t hear about the emergencies in time and don’t have time to evacuate safely. In such instances, a fireproof structure could save lives. This building features exterior walls made from 16-gauge weathering steel and concrete that form a fire-resistant frame.

Models Inform Resilient Building Design Principles

As people survey the damage after natural disasters, it’s not always easy to tell which characteristics resulted in resilient buildings versus ones that quickly succumbed to the elements. However, that’s starting to change since researchers are relying on advanced modeling techniques that could improve resilient building design principles.

One model was 86% accurate in predicting which homes within a wildfire’s path would burn. While exploring which aspects best protected homes from the flames, the team likened wildfire damage mitigation to many strategies deployed during the COVID-19 pandemic. For example, clearing the defensible space around a building is similar to social distancing, while structural reinforcements against wildfires are like vaccinations.

Elsewhere, structural engineering professionals from the University of Surrey developed a model to determine how safe the world’s skyscrapers would be when subjected to external trauma. Their results indicate strong design and engineering principles can prevent progressive-collapse events in these tall buildings.

The researchers said their model could inform people in the conceptual and design phases by showing the effects of a building side or corner column’s sudden removal—such as could occur during fires, vehicular strikes or explosions.

No one can predict the future with certainty. However, models like these reduce doubts that could slow design projects or result in less overall agreement about the best way forward from those involved.

Resilient Buildings Will Shape the Future

Designing and constructing buildings that can tolerate climate change, natural disasters and more will require collaboration and open-minded attitudes. However, these examples highlight the tremendous potential and exciting possibilities under consideration by modern engineers, designers and other professionals.

About the Author

Emily Newton

Emily Newton is an industrial and tech journalist passionate about how technology is revolutionizing each sector. She has been writing and editing professionally for more than five years and is the editor-in-chief of Revolutionized.

About the Author

Emily Newton

Emily Newton is an industrial and tech journalist passionate about how technology is revolutionizing each sector. She has been writing and editing professionally for more than five years and is the editor-in-chief of Revolutionized.

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