Early man constructed homes from little more than sun-baked mud-and-straw bricks. Then came the Romans, mixing volcanic rock with lime to make concrete, from which they constructed majestic, complex buildings, like the Pantheon in Rome.
Over the centuries, architects and engineers have developed increasingly sophisticated construction methods, enabling them to build evermore beautiful, enduring structures, featuring earthquake-proof foundations, steel girders, and glass curtain walls. Today’s constructors implement a range of futuristic technologies. This article explores some of the most exciting innovations.
Concrete is the world’s most commonly used construction material. In fact, after water, it is the second-most widely consumed substance on Earth. From homes, to office buildings; churches, to bridges and other infrastructure, it is cheap and widely available. Nevertheless, concrete does have serious disadvantages. For example, it is prone to deterioration and cracking.
Extremes of temperature can compromise the structure of concrete. In the past, the only way to fix cracks in concrete was to reinforce it, patch it, or demolish it and start from scratch. That is, until a graduate student of the University of Rhode Island created a new kind of ‘smart’ concrete that can ‘heal’ its own cracks.
There are other types of self-healing concrete on the market. Similar results have been achieved through using polymer microcapsules or embedded glass capillaries. Nevertheless, the University of Rhode Island team believe their method is the most cost-effective.
For decades, architects and engineers have searched for a material that combines the durability and strength of metal with the aesthetically pleasing, crystal-clear purity of glass. Such a transparent metal could have many different applications, particularly in the construction of skyscrapers. In addition, transparent aluminium could be highly advantageous in the construction of secure military buildings, facilitating construction of glass-walled buildings that are impervious to high-calibre artillery fire. Clear metal could also revolutionise the construction of largescale aquariums.
Scientists began experimenting with oxygen, nitrogen, and aluminium mixes back in the 1980s. Researchers placed aluminium powder under high pressure, heating it for days at around 2,000 degrees Celsius. They produced a type of ceramic, i.e. a crystalline material, through this process of heating and cooling. The finished result was a perfectly clear substance with the appearance of glass, but the strength of aluminium.
Temperature Reactive Tiles
Back in the early 1990s, colour-changing t-shirts were extremely popular. They were made possible through the development of thermochromic dye; a component that effectively changes the colour of t-shirt fabric according to the wearer’s body temperature.
Today, a company called Moving Color has developed decorative glass tiles that change colour according to surface temperature. At room temperature, the tiles remain a uniform glossy black, but when they are exposed to body heat, light, or warm water, they transform to iridescent greens, blues, and pinks, evocative of aurora borealis.
Robot Swarm Construction
As Chairman of the Mid Group, Sahel Majali recognises the benefits of embracing cutting-edge construction technologies. Based on the behaviour of nature’s most humble yet effective builder, the termite, robot swarm construction was developed by researchers at Harvard University, effectively programming small construction robots to work together as a swarm.
These four-wheeled robots create walls, brick-by-brick. They have inbuilt sensors to detect other robots and are capable of climbing walls to fill open spots. Robot swarm construction could have a variety of applications, negating the need for human workers in dirty, dangerous, or repetitive work.