Concrete, steel, wood…when you work in construction, these materials are the materials everyone is using. Or are they? From past to present, people have used some downright weird and unexpected materials in building.
Yes, you read that headline correctly. Sticky rice. In China, where rice is a mainstay of the traditional diet, mortar made from sticky rice was used to build super strong city walls, pagodas, temples, and even the Great Wall of China. The material is so strong that many ancient buildings held together with sticky rice mortar are still standing, having survived earthquakes and other natural events that typically erode buildings over time. In fact, sticky rice mortar is so effective, it’s been deemed the best material for restoring ancient buildings.
People often confuse hemp with its more infamous counterpart cannabis, but the two are entirely different. Although coming from the same plant, hemp does not contain the chemical that makes people high. The problem is, because hemp and marijuana come from the same plant, builders have not been able to use hempcrete, despite the fact that it is one of the strongest and most sustainable building materials in existence. Hempcrete is simply a building material that incorporates hemp. Above ground, hemp is fire resistant, rot-proof, and waterproof. It’s also lightweight and very strong. Oh, and it grows to full maturity in just 14 weeks.
Sounds gross, doesn’t it? Full disclosure: sweat isn’t the actual building material, but the concept of a sweaty building is just weird enough that I had to include it here. Scientists in Zurich devloped a polymer – PNIPAM – used to create a mat for roofs. This polymer encourages the roof to ‘sweat’ by soaking up rainwater and then releasing it down a building’s sides when it gets hot, cooling the building down much the same way sweat cools animals. The goal here is to reduce the enormous amount of energy the world uses running air conditioners.