Gallery: Researchers Developing Coral-Like Living Skin for Buildings


Researchers at the University of Greenwich in the UK are developing a carbon negative building material that would not only help fight climate change but protect the structures it is built upon. The material is made from protocells — super simple cells that have only the basic elements of life, yet are able to grow and multiply — that will capture carbon in their membranes and grow over time to create a hard, coral-like armor around or under buildings.

Though it seems the research team is a long way off from a final product, they are definitely on to something interesting. These cells could even be placed underneath structures to harden the support system of buildings in cities like Venice. “‘We want to use protocell bubbles to fix carbon or precipitate skin that we can then develop into a coral-like architecture, which could petrify the piles that support Venice to spread the structural weight-load of the city,” Professor Spiller said. The protocells would basically be building an artificial stone reef below the buildings.

We want to use ethical synthetic biology to create large-scale, real world applications for buildings,” said Professor Neil Spiller, head of the University of Greenwich’s School of Architecture & Construction. The research team envisions a future where buildings aren’t static but are constantly growing and becoming stronger. Because the protocells will capture carbon and use it as a structural element they could be used to create truly carbon-negative buildings that gobble up carbon over time. The research team believes that in the future, in addition to making coral-like wall surfaces, they can manipulate protocells to create living walls that capture and store water or that could use sunlight to produce biofuels.

+ Read more about the living buildings

Via Science Daily

Lead image © Paul Garland


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  1. ruveka January 20, 2012 at 6:15 am

    i am a student of architecture and i am interested in the article. Has this material been used in a building?

  2. Gander December 8, 2010 at 4:44 pm

    It looks like Science-Fiction may becoming Science-Fact.

    Uk Sci-Fi writer (my favourite) Peter F. Hamilton writes in his novel ‘Pandora’s Star';

    “More common was the encroachment of drycoral, a plant originally found on Mecheria. New residents planted the genetically tailored kernels along the bases of their houses, carefully tending the long flat strands of spongy pumicelike stone that grew quickly up the walls, broadening out to form a sturdy organic shell around the entire structure, with simple pruning keeping the windows clear.”

    I look forwards to seeing this technology develop.

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