The Walls Are Alive, Thanks to Biological Concrete

A new design material turns building facades into soil-free stretches of vegetation.

A rendering of a building that's made with biological concrete. (Photo: UPC)
A Bay Area native, Andri Antoniades has previously worked as a fashion industry journalist and a medical writer.

It seems that in an era obsessed with “going green,” we’ve become particularly enchanted by the idea of growing greenery out of our building’s walls and roofs. And why not? Vegetated walls and rooftop gardens can go a long way towards stabilizing a building’s internal temperature while absorbing CO2. The downside is that some of these iterations can put a lot of structural stress on building facades—and they can require a significant amount of upkeep.

But according to its website, researchers at Barcelona’s Universitat Politècnica de Catalunya (UPC) may have figured out how to marry vertical vegetation with sound structural support through the creation of something called biological concrete.

Existing vertical gardens usually require complex support structures that are often attached to the building's facade, or adjacent structures of metal and plastic. But in this case, biological concrete is the supporting structure, one that maintains its internal integrity even as it supports the growth of flora like moss and lichen. And the bonus is it's designed to maintain itself.

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UPC’s innovation, which is in the process of being patented, is unique for a few reasons. It has a more vegetation-friendly pH than normal concrete, it's textured with greater porosity, and it's composed of four layers that together work to accelerate vegetation growth. The innermost layer stays dry and vegetation-free, while the second layer serves as a waterproofing mechanism to protect it. It’s the outer two layers where the biology happens. They’re designed to capture and store rainwater, in order to support colonization and biological growth.

A Catalan architecture firm, ESCOFET 1886 S.A., has already shown interest in commercializing UPC's concrete.

In the last year especially there seems to have been a proliferation of green-themed design, ones that literally involve greenery as well as eco-friendly principles, and they go well beyond biological concrete.  The Ten Yards Project, profiled by TakePart earlier this year, turns abandoned dumpsters into mobile mini-gardens. Companies like Softwalks are funding ventures to turn pop-up parks into a reality for U.S. cities. And even in China, a country not readily associated with green practices, rooftop gardens are becoming a popular method for city dwellers to ensure their food’s safety and to lessen their own environmental impact.

The more we build, the more we seem to appreciate nature, not only for how it can help us, but also for how it makes us feel. The more concrete we see, the more green we want. Biological concrete may answer both those calls.

What do you think of using biological concrete on homes and office buildings? Let us know in the Comments.

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