Composite materials and adhesives could revolutionise construction and lead to entire towers being glued together, according to American architect Greg Lynn.
Carbon fibre, fibreglass and other structural plastics are lighter, stronger and cheaper than many traditional building materials.
Connecting these together with fast-drying glue is a quicker and more efficient method of construction, according to Lynn, who said this approach could replace the need for screws, rivets and bolts.
“The use of composites and adhesives could revolutionise engineering in every building type,” he told science magazine New Scientist.
The magazine published a report by Geoff Manaugh, author of BLDG BLOG, on the emerging construction technique.
Reducing the weight of a skyscraper could both dramatically bring down the building’s cost and help stop it swaying during an earthquake.
“If you can take 30 per cent of the weight out of the upper section of a building by using lightweight composite materials, you could end up saving between 70 and 80 per cent of the material in the entire structure,” said Lynn, whose projects include a prototype for a carbon-fibre living pod.
The materials can be moulded and glued into almost any desired shape to span huge distances. This has led to use in projects such as the theatre at Apple Campus 2 in Cupertino, which the tech company believes has the world’s largest freestanding carbon-fibre roof.
“These are fundamentally different material systems,” said architect Bill Kreysler, who also spoke to New Scientist.
Kreysler’s firm worked on the modular exterior panels for the expansion of the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, due to open next month. The building boasts the largest composite-based building facade in the USA.
Other successful projects that have used composite materials on a large scale include the University of Maine’s Take the Bridge in a Backpack initiative.
The team has built 18 lightweight road bridges from carbon-fibre tubes that can be assembled in less than two weeks, with individual arches light enough to be carried by four people.
Dubai-based company Premier Composite Technologies has provided materials to create movable, lightweight domes made from carbon fibre that provide shade in mosques, as well as a composite-based rail station in Medina.
Extra screws, rivets and bolts are currently used to connect carbon-fibre building elements as – despite its strength – glue is not fully trusted.
Many adhesives perform poorly at high temperatures and can also feed flames. Composite exterior panels were recently blamed for spreading a fire at an Atkins-designed skyscraper in Dubai.
Kreysler and Lynn agreed that composite and adhesive-based construction methods need to be better incorporated into building regulations.
Testing would be expensive and time-consuming, but New Scientist speculates that the money might come from the oil industry, as petroleum is used to make many of the plastic-based composites.