Construction materials

Building materials that increase resilience to natural disasters

Building materials that increase resilience to natural disasters

Eucalyptus forests in Australia are known to burn periodically. This is the tree’s way of ensuring propagation, because its fruits – called gum trees – have an insulating layer that decomposes with the heat of the fire. Once opened, the scorched earth is covered with seeds, initiating a process of renewal of the forest. Glenn Murcutt, an Australian architect, has created a work rooted in the country’s landscape. His innovative homes embrace the possibility of frequent fires, including features that help control the fire with as little loss as possible. In short, the houses are built with very non-flammable materials, always have huge water tanks, and a “flooding system” that saves the building and its immediate surroundings in the event of a forest fire. .

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Simpson-Lee House/Glenn Murcutt. Image © Anthony Brownell

However, what the australian situation has shown is that eucalyptus forests are not the only ones burning; its rainforests are also burned, devastating large parts of Australia. Unfortunately, this country is not a world exception. With the intensification of the climate crisis, natural disasters have become more frequent and severe. Unfortunately, this will only intensify if nothing is done. This leads us to ask ourselves the question: as architects, are there ways to mitigate this?

According to the latest IPCC report, what seemed like a dystopian future is now our reality. “Devastating droughts, extreme heat and record floods are already threatening the food security and livelihoods of millions of people. Since 2008, catastrophic floods and storms have forced more than 20 million people a year to flee their homes. Even though the construction industry has a responsibility to reduce carbon emissions, we will still have to adapt to an extreme planet that will require resilience. According this report from the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), infrastructure networks will be affected by the physical impacts of climate variability and change, but will also play a critical role in building resilience to these impacts. Extreme events illustrate the extent of this potential exposure. Similarly, the IPCC estimates that climate change adaptation in developing countries alone will reach US$127 billion by 2030 and US$295 billion by 2050.

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Skyscrapers in Dubai. Image © Badahos via Shutterstock

Permeable surfaces to control flooding

The intense urbanization of the world’s major cities has sealed off huge tracts of land and often channeled and diverted waterways. During heavy rains, it is common for drainage systems to fail and flooding to occur, causing destruction, damage and risk of death and illness to residents. If heavy rains are only going to increase – alongside rising sea levels – finding ways to optimize water use is essential. Launched by NACTO (National Association of Municipal Transportation Officials), the Urban Street Stormwater Guide illustrates a vision of how cities can use one of their best assets (their streets) to address resilience and climate change while creating enjoyable public spaces. The guide adds social and economic value to cities and protects resources through reconnection with natural ecological processes.

Rain(A)Path, in turn, develops products that solve urban water problems. Its tiles store rainwater in a visible and original way, allowing surfaces to delay the infiltration of water into the ground or urban infrastructures by reducing their overload during an extreme climatic event. There are also documents that deal with these issues. For instance, AquiPor is a type of permeable concrete that allows water to pass through it by seeping into the ground, while filtering dirt, debris and particulate pollution inherent in urban stormwater runoff, managing it in an environmentally friendly and efficient. Additionally, the material uses a low-carbon cement that both requires a fraction of the energy and emits a fraction of the CO2 of traditional concrete.


Heat Reduction Methods

One of the most challenging aspects of the climate crisis will be mitigating rising temperatures in a sustainable way. It should be noted that cooling buildings is much more complex than heating them: any form of energy can be converted into heat, and our bodies and machines naturally generate heat, even in the absence of active heating systems. . Cooling does not benefit from spontaneous generation, which often makes it more difficult, more expensive or less efficient to implement. ArchDaily has covered some of these strategies in the past, focusing specifically on materials that lead to passive cooling and natural ventilation techniques, such as cross ventilation or the stack effect.

However, focusing on more robust and insulated enclosures can also reduce cooling needs in buildings. One of the products addressing this problem is Soldalit-Coolit, an innovative sol-silicate ink designed to reduce solar heating when using dark tones. Coatings with Keim Coolit technology have a specific pigmentation and therefore absorb less solar energy. They visibly reduce the thermal absorption of the facade surfaces and avoid temperature-related stresses on the plaster structure.

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Sarah Kubitschek Salvador / João Filgueiras Lima Hospital. Image © Nelson Kon

Another method that can be used in urban centers is that of green roofs, which can additionally help absorb rain. For the occupants of the building, the added vegetation on the roof serves to reflect most of the direct sunlight, rather than having it absorbed by the building. In addition, the humidity present in the substrate prevents the structure from heating up, thus saving energy. In arid climates, increased thermal inertia will increase comfort by reducing temperature fluctuations in interiors. In addition, green roofs are generally referred to as potentially usable and extremely pleasant green spaces. But the benefits are not limited to private use: especially in large, dense cities, the creation of green roofs can mitigate urban heat islands.

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Heat-reflecting mineral paint – Soldalit®-Coolit. Image Cortesia from KEIM

Rapid reconstruction and self-repair

Regardless of the solutions described so far, severe weather will occur anyway. It is therefore vital to build structures that can be quickly rebuilt, allowing the inhabitants to return to normal as quickly as possible. Modular constructions and prefabrication are two ways of doing this, as they allow buildings to be assembled in a short time, with less consumption of raw materials and greater predictability throughout the process.

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Welcome area / Jean-Philippe Pargade. Photo © Sergio Grazia

Finally, technology can also provide countless other possibilities that we cannot even imagine yet. For example, the ability to self-healing concrete and asphalt can greatly reduce losses and inconveniences.


It is important to keep in mind that the construction industry, in addition to becoming resilient, has a huge role to play in changing the course of climate change. A lower carbon footprint and/or recycled materials should be used where possible. The window of opportunity for climate action is rapidly closing on us, and in addition to adapting, we need to make conscious decisions for the future.

This article is part of the ArchDaily topics: The future of Construction materials. Each month we explore a topic in depth through articles, interviews, news and projects. Learn more about our ArchDaily topics. As always, at ArchDaily we welcome contributions from our readers; if you want to submit an article or a project, Contact us.



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