Greg Lynn, a professor of architecture at Yale University, has put forward the theory that the basic materials and methods of construction and design are about to undergo a radical change. Rather than using wood and glass, and steel and concrete frames, he says, the industry in the future is more likely to build with advanced composite materials.
According to Lynn, the move away from traditional materials is already happening, with the increased use of materials such as plastics and carbon fibre that are lighter, stronger and cheaper than their traditional equivalents.
The use of composites and adhesives could revolutionise engineering in every building type– Greg Lynn
Lynn is also arguing that "mechanical assembly" is on the decline in manufacturing as a whole, with the makers of cars and planes favouring the use of advanced adhesives over traditional fixings.
However, construction has been slow to change its techniques in response to changes in the state of the art, with many contractors favouring the use of bolts and screws.
Lynn told the New Scientist magazine: "The use of composites and adhesives could revolutionise engineering in every building type … If you can take 30% of the weight out of the upper section of a building by using lightweight composite materials, you could end up saving between 70% and 80% of the material in the entire structure."
There are, however, some problems associated with the use of adhesives. For one thing, decreasing the mass of a tall building may also reduce its stiffness, and therefore its ability to resist wind loading. And glue and carbon composites are more vulnerable to fires: the blaze at The Address hotel tower in Dubai on New Year’s Eve is thought to have been accelerated by the building’s carbon cladding.
Neither fixing method is perfect, as demonstrated by bolts falling off London’s "Cheesegrater" skyscraper last year.
Image: One of the supporting nuts and bolts used to hold the Seattle Space Needle tower in place at the base (Wikimedia Commons/Benacche)