Building and construction, like all other industries, are evolving and advancing, albeit at an understandably slower rate. In a recent post about the future of cement, we talked about advances in the make-up, repair, and building methods of cement and concrete that have huge potential to change the way buildings are constructed in the future. Cement is one of the most universally used construction materials, and as people solves the environmental issues involved with its production, it will continue to be a heavily utilized material. Even since writing the last post, there has been another advancement in the world of concrete, with the company Calera developing a process where sequestered carbon dioxide from a power plant is reacted with seawater to create the base materials for cement, making what was formerly a process that released vast amounts of carbon, into a process that is carbon negative, offsetting the potential emissions of a power plant.
Another development which is going to come into its own in the coming decades is the printing and autonomous production of houses and other structures, especially in remote/hostile locations.
One thing that is not usually thought of by people theorizing about these future technologies and production methods is the inevitable trial and error period, and that occasionally things will go wrong and fail. That is why I am a fan of these rendering from Zeitguised, architecture fiction of what may be the misprints, failed prototypes of 3D printed houses, and their theorized use as homes for the aging squatter set. If any of you have ever had to make 3D prints before, or any type of automated milling/printing process, you know that it is not uncommon to get bizarre and wild misprints. Go to the site to see the full set of beautiful renders.
When it comes to the machines that are going to be printing and carving these buildings, they are going to need to be scalable and adaptable. My biggest issue with the 3D house printer shown in the previous post is that it is made to print a set size house on a square, level plot of land. Granted, it is still just coming out of the conceptual phase, but it will need to have some adaptability built into the system if it is going to become the game changer it has the potential to be. With this in mind, I think that it will be much better suited if it evolves in this direction, the hexapod CNC router, seen in the video below.
Instead of being restricted by rigid framework, create a print system that moves itself around, adapting to varied terrain and unusual shape and size structures. To make this concept even more powerful/frightening, combine it with another quickly advancing group of research, where scientists are using living brain tissue from rats to control robots.
These simple robots move around the floor, and their paths and object avoidance is controlled by circuitry made up of neurons, which give it the unique ability to make and develop new connections, true learning. The rat brain circuits currently only survive around three months, so they have gone through numerous circuits, and what they have found is that each circuit behaves differently, each one has its own personality. Watch the video below, and you can see that it even seems to move around in a very rat-like manner.
Now there are obvious ethical questions brought up by using real animal tissue, but the idea of an autonomous, learning robot is tremendous. Imagine the CNC router above, controlled by a learning brain, adapting to the situation and picking the best possible solution, all without the ned for human intervention. This could be used to build remote outposts, set loose to build structures, to be completed before people arrive. Put one on the next mars rover, and have it build the first base station before any astronauts get there. This also makes me think of an amazing post recently on BLDGBLOG, reviewing the book Rats by Robert Sullivan, and their impact on the architecture of NYC. I recommend reading the full article over on BLDGBLOG, but one of the things it talks about is the stratified layers under the city, the long abandoned and unmapped sewers where rats live that have never and will never see a human in their lifespan. Imagine the difficulty that humans have of burying new cables and pipes, having to tear up huge sections of strets just to gain access, and rats, which are able to find, chew through, and make their own paths with much less impact. In the future, new underground cable lines could be strung by burrowing hexapod robots with living brains, chewing through materials, and using bacterial patches, like talked about in the cement post, to fix and line the tunnels as they are made. No closed roads, no torn up streets, no chance of hitting a water main. Just show a rat cyborg point A and B, and let it learn what the best path would be.