09-Nov-2018, Pavitra Sriprakash, Director and Chief Designer, Shilpa Architects Planners Designers Pvt. Ltd, in her weekly column on Sustainability, writes about “innovations in the materials used in bricks”.
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Making innovations, brick by brick
Every brick has a story to tell – is an age old adage that implies that each brick has its own story and experience. In a world of sustainability though, every brick truly does have a story to tell – as there is so much innovation in these bricks as these are made like they never have been before. So what can be construed the next generation brick? Let us consider some of the advances to the most basic of building elements out there – the trusty old brick!
When it comes to recycled bricks we are finding the market having embraced plastic. It seems obvious to take a virtually non- destructible creation of ours — plastic and put it where we seek stability — in our walls. The simplest “Eco-Bricks” are very simply empty PET bottles filled with even more non-biodegradable material up to an optimum weight. These can be made by anyone with access to plastic waste and an internet connection to look up the DIY on how these can be made. Fly ash bricks are also a bit of a rage now — with the popular GRIHA rating system promoting the use of fly ash in an attempt to get a second life to this post-industrial waste material.
Another very interesting brick is that which can be grown on site – a rapidly renewable ‘bio brick’ which is made from myecelium (a type of mushroom species) What about brick that does more than just provide walls and vertical protection? How can the simple brick be given a ‘higher purpose’ ? This is an area of great interest to researchers around the world and some of the stuff being done is truly mind boggling! All this time we have focussed as practitioners of sustainable design on using bricks to optimise the thermal efficiency of the walls — to provide better insulation so our spaces feel more comfortable — this in turn helps cut down the amount of energy to heat or cool spaces.
The solutions all looked at optimising the quantities of brick, having air gaps for better insulation and improving the thermal efficiency of a brick. Now what if your walls could become vacuum cleaners for the environment? Prof Trudell’s ‘Breathe Brick’ does exactly that — the brick sucks up polluting particles while being a normal construction material that could be used in the design of structures.
These bricks that help the environment through improving air quality are part of the ongoing research by professors at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo’s School of Architecture. A double-layered façade of the breathe brick is laid outside a standard internal layer. Using cyclone filtration, the bricks separate heavy particle pollutants and drop them into a hopper at the base of the way which can then be removed for maintenance.
Early tests have found that the system is able to filter 30% of fine particles and a whopping 100% of coarse particles like dust. Relatively inexpensive, this solution could stop rising pollution rates in developing countries. Other research is also pointing to a future where bricks could be made of material capable of harvesting solar energy and emitting light at night time.