As industry professionals strive to develop more sustainable, environmentally-friendly materials, the world of architecture may be heading in a surprising direction.

Buildings could soon be constructed from a variety of unlikely materials as architects experiment further with uses for waste products and search for materials that will withstand the elements, time and the changing climate.

Three such materials making a name in the architecture technology realm are animal blood, hemp and bricks made of recycled materials which collect rainwater.

Blood: A Wasted Resource

Developed by Jack Munro, an 2012 architecture graduate of the University of Westminster in London, animal blood bricks may soon replace traditional bricks in many architectural designs.

“Animal blood is one of the most prolific waste materials in the world,” said Munro. “The blood drained from animal carcasses is generally thrown away or incinerated despite being a potentially useful product.”

Animal blood brick

Animal blood brick

It makes sense when one considers the amount of meat being eating these days. One cow carcass can produce about eight gallons of blood after slaughter.

Upcycling a natural product that would otherwise go to waste, Munro sterilised the blood he collected and mixed it with sand. He then poured the mixture into a mould and baked it at 160 degrees to produce a strong and waterproof brick.

The blood bricks aren’t quite as strong as a traditional brick, but their waterproof properties make them beneficial for use in arid climates where erosion is an issue. Munro anticipates the product could be used in the Middle East to replace mud bricks.

Hemp Concrete (Hempcrete): A Natural Carbon Sink

An environmentally friendly alternative to concrete, ‘hempcrete’ is made of hemp, lime and water.

The material is eco-friendly and carbon negative due to the amount of carbon dioxide stored during the growing and harvesting of the hemp.

Hempcrete itself is also a carbon sink, with further carbon dioxide absorbed as the lime-based binder petrifies the hemp shiv over time.

Hempcrete building blocks

Hempcrete building blocks

Lime-based hempcrete is estimated to have the potential to absorb and sequester 249 kilograms of carbon dioxide over 100 years.

Hempcrete, unlike traditional concrete, does not produce large cracks under movement. Concrete is subject to large, sudden cracking whereas hempcrete develops smaller micro cracks under movement which seal themselves when moisture comes in contact with free lime.

Advocates for hempcrete say foundation walls made from the product are seven times stronger than concrete foundations and three times more elastic, which they say could allow it to withstand earthquakes.

Hempcrete has wide-ranging applications in the architecture and building industries including roofing, caulking, flooring, paint, cement, plaster, plywood, insulation, bricks and paneling.

Waterproof, fireproof and 100 per cent recyclable, hempcrete can also be used as a fertiliser once demolished.

Material make-up

Material make-up

Water-Saving Brick

The Save Water Brick design by Jin-young Yoon and Jeongwoong Kwon is comprised of a mixture of recycled plastic bottles and dried, rotting leaves molded into a traditional brick shape.

The bricks have a waterway carved into their sides which acts as a rainwater channel, directing falling water to nearby vegetation or underground tanks. The bricks are intended solely for external walls and absorb the water for grey-water applications or for purification for human consumption.

The building material makes use of three materials that would otherwise be wasted: fallen leaves, old plastic bottles and rainwater.

Given the current climate crisis, water is destined to become increasingly scarce. For this reason, the Save Water Brick may be increasingly implemented by architects and designers seeking ways for the built environment to conserve a vital resource.