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Innovative building Systems

Innovative building systems you need to know

3D printing, prefabricated modules, rammed earth, and bamboo are just a few of the most innovative building systems of our time. Let’s find out more.


Building methods are evolving. In addition to steel and reinforced concrete, innovative construction systems intrigue with their technological qualities, performance, sustainability, and ease of construction. Let’s explore the most innovative and surprising construction systems!

Innovative Building Systems: Here Are Some Examples

Technological advancements have a proportional impact on the progress of the construction industry. Significant changes not only affect how buildings are represented and designed but also materials, techniques, and construction systems. While we’re accustomed to designing buildings in reinforced concrete, steel, and wood, to keep up with the innovation in our industry, it’s always good to be aware of and consider the latest trends: some could prove extremely interesting and certainly worth exploring!

The latest trends rediscover traditional construction systems and explore the latest frontiers of technology, always with a strong focus on environmental sustainability.

If you’re interested in this topic, don’t forget that valuable support for architectural design of buildings using innovative construction systems undoubtedly includes the use of 3D building design software.

3D representation plays a fundamental role, providing a detailed and realistic view of building structures before they are physically constructed. Thanks to three-dimensional modeling, you can clearly and precisely visualize every component of the building, including its connections and interactions with the surrounding environment. This virtual representation allows for exploring different design solutions, evaluating the effectiveness and ergonomics of proposed construction systems, and anticipating any issues or conflicts during the execution phase.

Moreover, 3D representation facilitates communication with other members of the design team, clients, and stakeholders, enabling them to easily understand the proposed design and actively contribute to the decision-making process. Thus, three-dimensional modeling not only accelerates the design cycle but also fosters innovation and experimentation with new construction solutions, thereby contributing to the advancement of the entire construction sector.

3D Printing

3D printing has undergone significant evolutionary progress since the 1980s, transforming from a niche technology into an innovative tool used in various sectors. In the architectural context, 3D printing is emerging as a driving force in transforming the construction process. This technology employs 3D printers to create structural components of buildings directly from the 3D digital model. It is fast, efficient, and allows for complex architectural forms with reduced construction times and costs.

The global 3D construction market is expected to grow by 91% by 2028, a clear indication of its increasing importance. This growth is largely attributed to the proliferation of sustainable construction projects, as companies increasingly adopt 3D printing to reduce construction costs and create sustainable, energy-efficient buildings.

Innovative construction systems | House made with 3D printing

Innovative construction systems | House made with 3D printing

Implementing 3D printing offers numerous advantages, including increased accuracy, efficiency, reduced labor costs, and shortened construction times. Countries like the United Arab Emirates have rapidly embraced this technology, aiming to construct 25% of buildings in Dubai using 3D printing by 2030.

In Europe and the United States, the trend is gaining momentum. In November 2020, PERI GmbH began construction of the largest 3D-printed residential building in Europe, while in Germany, it completed the first residential building receiving the German Innovation Award. In the United States, 3D-printed homes are already on the market. Materials used for building these homes range from concrete to rammed earth, and even compounds made from reprocessed plant waste.

The advantages of 3D printing in the construction industry are manifold:

  • Lower construction costs: 3D printing proves to be more cost-effective than traditional techniques, requiring less energy, labor, and allowing for more efficient use of materials;
  • Better sustainability: in addition to cost-effectiveness, 3D-printed architecture stands out for its low environmental impact. While reinforced concrete is commonly used in traditional construction, 3D printing companies are experimenting with more sustainable materials such as rammed earth, biodegradable bamboo, and recyclable thermoplastics;
  • Shorter construction times: one of the key advantages is construction speed. 3D-printed houses can be built in a matter of days compared to the months required with traditional techniques. Projects like YHNOVA in France, printed in 54 hours, demonstrate the efficiency of this technology. Mighty Buildings, a Californian company, can print a unit in 24 hours, offering a rapid solution to meet the demand for affordable housing or provide shelters in areas affected by natural disasters;
  • Design freedom: 3D printing imposes no limits on creativity; complex, curved, and customized shapes can be printed that would otherwise be extremely difficult to reproduce.

3D printing is directly connected to 3D BIM design. From the digital model, it automatically transitions to the real one. For this reason, it is essential to start with an accurate model, created with suitable BIM architectural design software.

Wooden Prefabricated Buildings

Prefabricated wooden modules are manufactured in factories and assembled on-site. Wood is lightweight, sustainable, with high-level seismic characteristics, and can be quickly processed and disposed of or reused at the end of the building’s life cycle.

Prefabricated wooden buildings adapt to many needs, allowing for high design flexibility. Current technologies also allow for the construction of multi-story prefabricated wooden buildings.

Currently, one of the tallest buildings with a wooden structure is the Mjøsa Tower, designed by Voll Arkitekter and consisting of 18 above-ground floors. While the typical aesthetics of wooden buildings are appreciable, when not desired, they can be designed in line with traditional buildings: facades can be plastered or finished with the desired cladding.

Prefabricated wooden buildings

Prefabricated wooden buildings

Prefabricated modular systems offer guaranteed construction times and costs, use sustainable materials, maximize the energy efficiency of envelopes, and minimize environmental impact.

Prefabricated Concrete and Other Mixed Materials

Often, innovations are simply the result of the evolution of commonly used materials. In addition to wood, other typical building materials are revisited and reused in a new form. We’re talking about prefabricated structures in reinforced concrete, steel, or mixed systems, using pre-made structural elements to be assembled on-site. The advantages of using prefabricated modules are linked to the possibility of having fast construction sites and easily predictable costs. Furthermore, the combined use of different materials can improve structural resistance, energy efficiency, and sustainability.

Hollow Wooden Bricks

Particularly innovative is the system that involves the use of hollow bricks made of wood. The elements are similar to traditional brickwork (in terms of shape and thicknesses available on the market) but are assembled without the use of mortars or other adhesives. The assembly system is completely dry, and the wooden bricks are patented with an interlocking system that allows easy connection between elements (like Lego, so to speak). Partitions can be made as well as perimeter walls and can be left exposed, plastered, or covered with an insulation coat.

Containers

The transformation of maritime containers into housing or commercial spaces is an innovative modular solution that has been popular for several years now. Containers offer a robust structure and are easily transportable and assembled together as modular structures to create buildings of customized sizes. This approach is appreciated for its sustainability, reduced construction times, and architectural versatility. However, it requires adequate modifications to make them comfortable both in terms of spatial usage and climate comfort and aesthetically pleasing.

Innovative construction systems | House made with containers

Innovative construction systems | House made with containers

Straw, Bamboo, and Rammed Earth

The use of resources such as earth, straw, wood, and bamboo in the construction industry often raises uncertainties in Western mentality, where reinforced concrete prevails. However, it’s worth noting that approximately 5 billion people worldwide still live in homes built with natural materials, enjoying better comfort, health, and well-being.

Straw Bale Houses

The construction techniques of straw bale houses vary from place to place, mainly based on climatic needs and construction traditions.

In the United States, the load-bearing structure is often composed of steel rods to keep the straw bales aligned, while welded wire mesh is used to secure the plaster. Combining straw with lime or rammed earth plasters promotes wall breathability and solves the problem of mold formation. Tiles and coverings can be installed as in a common house.

Contrary to popular belief, straw is not highly flammable: tests show that a straw bale wall can withstand temperatures up to 1010°C for three hours, allowing for evacuation and flame control.

Straw is also an excellent thermal insulator, allowing for significant energy savings on heating. It is also effective as a sound insulator and is breathable, promoting air exchange in the building and, unlike hay, does not cause allergies and is not subject to pest attacks. Once plastered, it is also inaccessible to rodents.

Structurally, straw can support loads of over 15 tons per square meter and withstand seismic events well.

The rough structure of a straw bale house can be completed in less than two weeks: the laying of bales takes only a few hours. With good design, the building can last for many decades, provided it is protected with quality plasters. Since straw is considered a waste material, costs are contained: the price of a bale varies from 2.5 to 3.5 euros. For a 150 m² house, with about 400 bales, the total cost is around 1000-1400 euros.

Bamboo Houses

Bamboo is an ecological and renewable material, appreciated for its lightness, flexibility, and strength, so much so that it is nicknamed the “vegetable steel.” It is fire-resistant, unlike wood, burning at very high temperatures.

Its strength makes it ideal both as a material for furniture and walls and as a structural element for entire buildings. In architecture, it is used for columns, beams, and panels, offering refined and effective solutions. It is also widely used for interior flooring, perfectly combining functionality and aesthetics: bamboo floors are durable and long-lasting, without fear of scratches and less expensive than solid wood. Structurally, bamboo offers great rigidity and flexibility, so much so that earthquake-resistant homes in Hawaii are made with this material for its reliability.

House made of bamboo

House made of bamboo

The intrinsic beauty of bamboo makes it an excellent choice for decorating spaces, providing elegance and sustainability.

After cutting, bamboo takes only 3-5 years to regenerate, making it an ecological resource in the construction sector.

Bamboo finds various uses in green building, contributing to the creation of economical and energy-efficient buildings. In Latin America and Asia, it has been used for centuries to create sturdy and charming homes.

Architects like Shigeru Ban, Kengo Kuma, Simon Velez, and Frei Otto have explored its potential to create innovative and ecological structures.

Rammed Earth Houses

Construction with rammed earth (using the adobe and pisé technique) is an ancient sustainable approach. Clay, after all, has always been used in construction, in the form of bricks, tiles, stamped flooring, etc.

The term “rammed earth” refers to a clayey material, not subjected to firing, widely used in construction, with excellent performance and easily available at low cost. It can be distinguished between lean and fat clayey soils, with the former characterized by a very plastic consistency and binding properties, and the latter with a higher sand content.

This type of soil is extracted from layers below the surface soil and includes clay, sand, gravel, and silt, resulting from the breakdown of rocks and possessing excellent binding properties. The color of rammed earth varies depending on its origin, providing indications about the type of material extracted.

Various construction techniques are available that exploit rammed earth, allowing great expressive freedom in terms of shapes and dimensions. Regardless of the chosen technique, the clay is left to mature for a set period of time and, depending on the requirements, can be mixed with other materials such as sand and straw.

Rammed earth has been greatly reassessed by green building for its ecological and sustainable value.

Rammed earth is first and foremost a natural and biocompatible material, with minimal environmental impact. It is abundant and does not require subsequent processing with chemicals or production processes that generate polluting waste. At the end of its life cycle, it can be returned to nature without special treatments.

In addition to sustainability, rammed earth constructions offer other interesting characteristics, such as considerable mass and thermal inertia. The walls, about half a meter thick, have excellent thermal capacities and can retain atmospheric moisture.

The soundproofing and fire resistance properties of rammed earth are also good. Furthermore, clay is malleable and ductile and adapts to constructions of various shapes and sizes.

Despite its strengths, rammed earth is sensitive to water and requires adequate protection from atmospheric agents. Appropriate coatings, such as lime, may be necessary to preserve its performance and resistance.

Each of these construction systems has advantages and disadvantages, and the choice depends on various factors, including location, structural requirements, sustainability, and architectural design.

 

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