Would you live in a city made of bone?

Would you live in a city made of bone?

The cities of today are built with concrete and steel – but some Cambridge researchers think that the cities of the future need to go back to nature if they are to support an ever-expanding population, while keeping carbon emissions under control.

Between them, concrete and steel are responsible for as much as a tenth of worldwide carbon emissions. Before they ever reach a construction site, both steel and concrete must be processed at very high temperatures – which takes a lot of energy. And yet, our cities are completely dependent on these two unsustainable materials.

“I fly back and forth a lot between the UK and the US, and I’d been harbouring a lot of guilt about the effect that had on my carbon footprint – I’d always assumed, as many of us do, that air travel is a huge contributor to carbon emissions,” says bioengineer Dr Michelle Oyen of Cambridge’s Department of Engineering. “But the truth is, while the emissions caused by air travel are significant, far more are caused by the production of concrete and steel, which of course is what most cities are built from.”

So what does that mean for cities of the future, as more and more of us live in urban areas? How can we continue to build while reducing carbon emissions?

Whereas some researchers are investigating ways of producing steel and concrete in more energy-efficient ways, or finding ways of using less, Oyen would rather turn the tables completely, and create new building materials that are strong, sustainable and take their inspiration from nature.

“What we’re trying to do is to rethink the way that we make things,” says Oyen. “Engineers tend to throw energy at problems, whereas nature throws information at problems – they fundamentally do things differently.”

Oyen works in the field of biomimetics – literally ‘copying life’. In her lab, with funding support from the US Army Corps of Engineers, she constructs small samples of artificial bone and eggshell, which could be used as medical implants, or even be scaled up and used as low-carbon building materials.

Like the real things, artificial bone and eggshell are composites of proteins and minerals. In bone, the proportions of protein and mineral are roughly equal – the mineral gives bone stiffness and hardness, while the protein gives it toughness or resistance to fracture. While bones can break, it is relatively rare, and they have the benefit of being self-healing – another feature that engineers are trying to bring to biomimetic materials. […]

Aline Chahine
Aline is an international licensed architect currently practicing in Canada, she is the reason you are reading this right now, Aline founded the platform back in 2008 shaping the very foundation of Architecture Lab, her exemplary content curation process that defines the online magazine today.
Aline Chahine
Aline Chahine
Aline is an international licensed architect currently practicing in Canada, she is the reason you are reading this right now, Aline founded the platform back in 2008 shaping the very foundation of Architecture Lab, her exemplary content curation process that defines the online magazine today. Highlights Aline founded Architecture Lab in 2008 Lead editor of dan | dailyarchnews since 2019 Founded and Creative Director of DesignRaid Licensed architect with creative sales and marketing experience Experience As full-fledged architect, Aline's background involved a great deal of research that lead to the creation of Architecture Lab as an online database of exemplary design. Her experience snowballed into founding two architecture platforms, Architecture Lab and DesignRaid. Education Aline received USEK’s Master of Architecture in 2004 and BA in English from the University of Toronto
TITLE | Founder of Architecture Lab
About Architecture Lab Architecture Lab is a MKR.S Media brand, a website devoted to extraordinary design and aesthetics aiming to promote exceptional aesthetic values and sustainable design in all it's shapes and sizes. Learn more about us and our editorial process and feel free to contact us if you would like to see something in particular on the website, our certified experts will get back to you with the most trustworthy advice as soon as possible. Read all articles by Aline | Follow her on LinkedIn

Leave a Comment