These modular prefab homes could be the world’s first to use a steel 3D-printed “exoskeleton” construction system!

Located in Orani, Sardinia, Exosteel comprises the world’s first housing development to use a steel 3D-printed “exoskeleton” construction system that supports and distributes all the functional elements of the building, inspired by the sculpture work of Costantino Nivola.

Museums are social hubs for travelers. They’re cultural and artistic landmarks first, yes. But they’re also guaranteed spots where tourists can take some respite from long hours spent wandering the city. Near the Nivola Museum in Sardinia, Italy, international design studio Mask Architects visualized a cluster of homes to function as a housing development for the surrounding community. Conceptualized as a small village of modular prefabricated steel houses, Mask Architects is the world’s first architecture and design firm to use a steel 3D-printed “exoskeleton” construction system to build the small village, calling it Exosteel.

Exosteel comprises a group of modular steel homes that would be constructed using ​​a 3D-printed construction system that supports and distributes all the functional elements of the building. Mask Architects co-founders Danilo Petta and Öznur Pınar Çer felt inspired by Costantino Nivola’s sculpture work, in particular a travertine sculpture called ‘La Madre.’ Punctuating the terrain of a sloping mountainside in Sardinia, Exosteel is comprised of heart-shaped, white homes with center ‘energy towers,’ oriented in the same way as the head on Nivola’s ‘La Madre.’

Mask Architects plan on building Exosteel by first inserting a hollow central column ⅓ of the building’s height into the ground, reinforced by wooden beams to support each home’s three floors. Then, on each floor, a perimeter frame “divides and supports the [home’s] facades made up of panels modeled to follow the organic shape of the house,” as described by Mask Architects. Following Nivola’s pursuit of binding communities together through art, Mask Architects chose Exosteel’s location due to its proximity to Orani, Sardinia’s national museum, where Nicola’s ‘La Madre’ is on permanent display.

Striving to ensure each building is entirely “self-sustainable,” Mask Architects designed each module that comprises Exosteel to be expandable and flexible to meet the conditions of Sardinia’s natural climate and weather conditions. Considering Orani’s propensity for wind, the homes of Exosteel are completed with built-in voids that guide wind through each building to the development’s communal wind turbine. As described by Mask Architects, Exosteel garners energy from individual energy conduits placed at the top of each home.

Describing the energy conduits, Mask Architects note, “Each building is centered with an ‘Energy Tower’…covered with solar panels that will harvest solar energy while the top of the central energy tower itself will rotate 360 degrees at the same time with the wind that will also generate wind turbine energy…​​The main centered energy tower that houses all the systems is constructed out of a steel skeleton. By connecting our bearing steel beams to this skeleton column, we actually created a completely self-supporting steel carcass metal structure.”

Designer: Mask Architects

This cabin can easily transported to remote places & reduces construction carbon emissions!

Ever since the pandemic, escapes to secluded local destinations have become the norm which means more cabin designs for us to explore! This is Cabana, a compact and functional cabin that is designed to facilitate a unique experience. Cabana was made to fit in any space and location while making sure it had minimum impact on the environment which guided every detail such as the choice of materials or the process of assembly. The black, boxy unit with contrasting warm wooden interiors feels like the perfect place to read my entire pile of unread books for days!

It offers a cozy refuge from the chaos of our fast-paced lives. Since reducing construction impact on the surrounding was a priority, the team chose steel, cement slabs, and reforested wood for the structure as well as sealing materials. This minimized material waste through leftovers, water consumption, and carbon emissions which increased the overall energy efficiency of Cabana from design to construction and ultimately its usage.

Cabana has a very warm ambiance which it owes to the thermal, lighting, and acoustic comfort provided by rock wool on the walls and ceiling, as well as large PVC frames – a material known for its excellent insulation – that are strategically positioned in order to facilitate cross-ventilation. I would have loved to see a rainwater harvesting system or solar panels to make it more energy-efficient and sustainable.

Additionally, the use of LED strips and a wood-burning stove also help maintain a cozy atmosphere without using excessive energy. “All these actions aim to reduce the need to use air conditioning systems, improve performance in the use of artificial lighting, and consequently minimize the consumption of electricity,” elaborates the team.

Cabana was developed so that it could bring a sustainable cabin design to remote locations. To make that easier, it was divided into multiple modules that could be carried by two people which eliminated the need for cranes and allowed the cabin to be assembled quickly and in usually hard-to-access places.

It can also be transported with the aid of just one box truck which reduces the logistics and all the adversities caused in the process. The metallic pile foundation was designed to minimize its impact on the surroundings and to reduce the use of concrete which actually is the construction industry’s biggest generator of carbon emissions.

The building system is suitable for most terrains, but if necessary, a specialized engineering team will consult the terrain conditions and a specific new foundation will be developed. The team will also accompany the owner with materials and tools to assemble the cabin efficiently and quickly.

It has two levels – the lower area is the living space with a kitchenette and a fireplace while the upper area is entirely a sleeping zone. The bed mattress rests on a raised wooden platform and is positioned in a way to let catch the view of the sky through a window on the angular roof without leaving your bed. Cabana offers a complete cozy cabin-in-the-woods vibe but with a modern aesthetic and a sustainable construction process!

Designer: Liga Arquitetura e Urbanismo

This sustainable home made from “air concrete” is fireproof, waterproof & DIY-friendly!

If you don’t know, concrete is really bad for the planet – it is responsible for 8% of the global carbon emissions! In the quest to find the perfect substitute many alternatives like foamcrete, papercrete, and hempcrete were created. Now we’ve got aircrete – a foamy mixture of air bubbles and cement which is cost-effective to produce, DIY-friendly, and has the essential safeguarding properties needed for construction.

Hajjar Gibran had the idea to create AirCrete homes and DomeGaia brought it to life. The aircrete mixture is a lightweight and low-cost building block that is fireproof, water-resistant, insect-proof, and serves to insulate the structure. AirCrete reduces construction costs by 10 times and is an easy material to work with for single-story homes. It dries overnight and can be shaped into any desired form – so what do you want your home to look like? A mini castle? Spongebob’s Pineapple? Anything is possible!

The dome structure is actually very energy efficient because it encloses the home with minimal material and keeps it warm, unlike traditional homes where 40% of the energy loss happens around the thermal bridges where studs, floors, and roof meet the exterior walls. It is also the strongest structural shape to safeguard against natural disasters, earthquakes, hurricanes, tornadoes, forest fires, floods, and volcanic eruptions.

The major key to DomeGaia’s AirCrete is the foaming agent that works by suspending tiny air bubbles in the cement mixture. A continuous foam generator disperses a mix of the foaming agent (like all-natural “high foaming” dish detergent) into the cement mixture and continues to mix it. It eliminates the need for aggregates, gravel, sand, or rock which are costly, take up space on-site, require heavy equipment to deliver, and hard labor to work with. It is wonderful to know we have so many ecological building alternatives to concrete that are durable, moldable, safe, climate-friendly, scalable, and sustainable!

Designer: DomeGaia

Fun fact, AirCrete is also waterproof enough for you to build a boat with because it will not rot, rust, or decompose!

Due to the seamless integration of floor, walls, and roof, Aircrete homes eliminate outside air penetration which allows the natural flow of interior convection currents that make it easier to heat and cool.

“Perhaps the most obvious reason to build with AirCrete is the enormous amount of money it will save you in construction, maintenance, keeping you cool during the summer and warm in the winter. Millions of tiny closed air cells give AirCrete its insulating properties. And you can form it to any thickness to suit your climate,” says the team.

Just one liter of dish detergent with 10 gallons of water makes enough foam to produce about 2 cubic meters or 70 cubic feet of AirCrete. The foam expands the volume of cement by a factor of 5 – 7.

Just use the standard wood-working tools to carve or drill into the material, inserting screws and nails where necessary.

This material also keeps the homes free from insects and rodents. These creatures hide in all kinds of cracks and when homes age they become more vulnerable to pests. You often resolve to treat the problem with chemicals and it becomes an endless cycle.

Natural materials like limestone in aircrete also help to keep the ailments caused by the off-gassing of modern construction materials.

DomeGaia not only designs, hosts workshops on building Aircrete homes but also sells a readymade foam generator unit called the Little Dragon along with their Foam-Injection AirCrete Mixer for those who want to take on a big project on their own from scratch.

This lillypad-inspired floating sustainable city was designed to support emission free transportation

Bjarke Ingels has always pushed the boundaries and turned ambitious concepts into a reality. What I love about his work that he always incorporates sustainability into his architectural structures while moving ahead with the times – Ingels shows us time and again that the future is green. BiodiverCity is one of his most recent projects, it is a city of three islands connected by autonomous vehicles for land, water, and air to make this a transport emission-free habitat off the coast of Malaysia.

Three islands will be built in Penang and will serve as cultural, business, and residential hubs. The most striking thing about the development is that all the transportation on the 4,500 acres will consist of autonomous boats, vehicles, and air travel, making the islands car-free and pedestrian-friendly. Construction is one of the biggest sources of carbon emissions, in fact, even more than the aviation industry. So to reduce the impact on the environment, most buildings will be prefabricated or 3D printed on-site and others will use a combination of bamboo, Malaysian timber, and “green concrete” which is made from recycled materials like aggregate.

The commercial build is still in progress, but will eventually consist of three islands — the Channels, Mangroves, and Laguna. These will include about 2.86 miles of beaches, 600 acres of parks, and 15.53 miles of waterfront. Previous land developments in Penang have disturbed the local habitats and coastal areas, so to make amends and solve this looming issue, BiodiverCity will be designed as connected “urban lilypads” and all islands will be able to harness resources locally. The Mangroves honor the wetlands (and of course, the mangroves) and will be made for business and events with a special space called Bamboo Beacon to host conferences or concerts. Lastly, the Laguna will be a cluster of eight small islands built around a marina and this is where people can live in houses that float, are stilted, or terraced. The three islands will be made up of different “districts” that will altogether house 15,000 to 16,000 people on 50 to 500 acres of land.

BiodiverCity will be planned to be a sustainable city where people and nature not only co-exist but thrive. There will be “buffers” between 50 to 100 meters that will surround each district in order to form a harmonious relationship between the people, the land, and the wildlife – think of these buffers as architectural glues for the new ecosystem. To keep native animals safe in spots that are being inhabited by humans, the builders will also include canopies, waterways, and boardwalks. In line with this strong green approach, there will also be green roofs and open spaces to create a symbiotic relationship between people and nature. “We are literally embarking on a journey to create more of Malaysia for future generations. We have decided to set the bar as high as humanly possible by imagining a new archipelago that aims to be both more culturally and biologically diverse than previous developments.” said firm founder Bjarke Ingels. The islands will be built in collaboration with other private companies like Hijjas, Knight Frank, and Ernst and Young.

Designer: Bjarke Ingels Group

BiodiverCity is a part of the Penang2030 initiative that focuses on sustainable living while improving the state’s quality of life, level of income, and participation from citizens.

The islands will be integrated with a SMART grid that provides residents with live data detailing waste and energy consumption – this will help the community to make informed sustainability-related decisions.

The Channels will have a 500-acre digital park for researchers, educators, families, and businesspeople with virtual reality and robotics that will be the new norm in future cities.

“Our masterplan proposal, BiodiverCity, supports the Penang2030 vision with a clear focus on livability, on stimulating a socially and economically inclusive development, and on environmental sustainability for future generations,” said BIG.

“If Penang is defined by its rich cultural diversity and its abundant biodiversity, we would like to envision the Penang South islands as an archipelago where the two can coexist in a human-made ecosystem, expanding and enhancing one another,” said BIG founder Bjarke Ingels.

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These repurposed shipping container offices are designed to be economic and eco-friendly!

Repurposing shipping containers to create homes and offices is a sustainable trend that is gaining momentum. Similar to the tiny houses, these structures are compact, modular and can be designed to fit any purpose that you may have for a place -right from a remote campus, ICU pods, office network, or even a small town. The possibilities are endless and CAPSA Containers hosted a competition, ‘Design for Tomorrow’ that is focused on innovative and alternative construction solutions. Construction is responsible for 30% of the greenhouse gas emissions so these designs can help us build more responsibly and sustainably – they are ecological, economic, and meet the societal expectation of doing better with less, reducing environmental footprint, and limiting the consumption of natural resources.

“Bio-based materials, recycled, reused, smart, and sustainable construction will be our tools to meet these challenges. In the diversity of offer that the construction offers today, the marine container is an alternative offering a great number of assets: modularity, mobility, scalability,” says the team at CAPSA.

Designers: Bureau Agreste by Hugues Hernandez, Morgan Baufils, and Ariane Marty. Flowers in the Garden by Eu Jin Lim. Side Up Project by Mengfan Sha, Wang, and Zhang.

The winner is ‘Bureau Agreste’ – a modern shipping container office that provides professionals with a dedicated working space. The contemporary aesthetic masks the fact that it is an eco-friendly space. It has two levels with an open floor plan that makes it feel roomier and encourages productivity. It also features solar panels on the roof along with a rainwater harvesting system which makes it perfect for off-grid locations – this way businesses can save on the high rent they would usually pay in big cities. The container suspension frees up the ground space for organizing recreational outdoor activities (or even parking!) and gives the elevation needed for natural light. The first floor is organized concentrically around the central point of arrival, from the collective space (exchange and debate) to the intimate space (concentration and introspection). “The project aims to a certain resilience and seeks to minimize its ecological impact, by the use of recycling end-of-life containers, rainwater recovery tank, photovoltaic panels, dry toilets, wood stove, ceiling fan or even the use of bio-sourced materials from the local industry,” says the winning design team.

The second place was awarded to ‘Flowers in the Garden’ which was designed to be a hybrid of communal workspace and a garden. The project challenges traditional office settings by integrating the natural environment as a part of the whole workspace. It is an organic but playful structure with soft screens and in-between green-buffering spaces that creates a diverse ecosystem of perforated mass that is always ‘breathing’. This office design lets you stay healthily distanced but not socially separated and provides a refreshing break from staring at your screens.

The third place goes to the ‘Side Up Project’ that creatively transforms shipping containers into a semi-open space. It uses containers like LEGO blocks and combines multiple ‘side-up’ containers to form a flex space that could be used for work, camps, exhibitions, or events. The design turns the closed, small individual containers into a connected entity allowing occupants to move freely through the space while creating pockets that can be used for specific purposes. Not only is it a place for productivity and collaboration, but also a catalyst for future sustainable working communities.

Transformable to infinity, these repurposed shipping containers are the ideal ingredient for the wildest architectural projects while reducing the construction industry’s negative impact on the environment. These sustainable workplaces are definitely one of the coolest office designs we’ve seen!

Build a Marble Run with Tiny Bricks and Mortar

Marble runs can be a whole lot of fun to build and watch in action. But most of the ones I’ve seen are made from wood or maybe plastic. If you’re looking for something a little more substantial, check out this marble run kit that includes towers made from bricks.

There’s no way the Big Bad Wolf is blowing down the Teifoc Run n’ Roll Marble Run. This unique play set includes about 200 tiny terracotta clay bricks, along with mortar and a trowel. Yes, you build it yourself. The cool thing is that the mortar is made from a soluble corn-based glue, so you can actually disassemble and rebuild new structures if you soak them in water for a couple of hours.

If you buy a few kits, you could probably build some pretty epic constructions, but with a price tag just under $100, that could get expensive very quickly. The brick and mortar marble run is available from Amazon. They sell mortar refills as well. I’d like to see someone scale up this idea using real bricks, PVC, and maybe some bowling balls.

NASA plans to use mushrooms to build sustainable housing on Mars like this one!

Let’s accept it – climate change is the biggest design problem of our lifetime. It doesn’t matter what industry you are in, every brand from fashion to mental health and even construction is incorporating sustainable solutions in their work. In fact, a recent exhibition in Somerset, London was dedicated entirely to “the remarkable mushroom” showcasing its versatility. I am curious how mushrooms are used for construction given that that particular industry contributes to 39% of the world’s carbon footprint and we know a fun-guy (get it?!) who might have a solution.

The construction industry emits 4 times more CO2 than the aviation industry and that is enough proof they must focus on ecodesign to reduce their colossal impact especially when sustainable materials, like mycelium composites, already exist! This material is created by growing mycelium–the thread-like main body of a fungus–of certain mushroom-producing fungi on agricultural wastes. The mycelia are composed of a network of filaments called “hyphae,” which are natural binders and they also are self-adhesive to the surface they grow on. The entire process is based on biological elements that also help in upcycling waste and reducing dependency on toxic fossil fuels. Mycelium composite manufacturing can also be a catalyst in developing new bioindustries in rural areas, generating sustainable economic growth while creating new jobs.

This mushroom material is biodegradable, sustainable and a low-cost alternative to construction materials while also possessing thermal and fire-resistant properties. The Living has designed an organic 42 feet tall mycelium tower to show the potential of using mushrooms for stable structures which is just one of many such projects. Mycelium materials are also being tested for being acoustic absorber, packaging materials, and building insulation. Even NASA is currently researching using mycelium to build sustainable habitable dwellings on Mars – if we have to move into a mushroom house, might as well test it on Earth first, right? The construction industry has to act now if they want to build in/a future.

Designer: The Living

Cement alone is responsible for a massive 8% of global CO₂ emissions and the construction industry has to start using alternative materials to transition smoothly into a more sustainable future.

Energy used to heat, cool, and light buildings account for 28% of these emissions while the remaining 11% of buildings’ carbon emissions consist of those associated with construction and building materials.

Mycelium composite is formed when “mycelia” digest the nutrients from agricultural waste and bonds to the surface of the waste material by also serving as a natural self-assembling glue.

The materials are low-density, and therefore very light when compared to other construction materials while still being able to provide structural stability as shown in various architectural projects.

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