Industry 4.0 could revolutionize sustainable architecture

Imagine your home scheduling itself for repair and doing all the work in itself to remain in perfect shape. Or how about a bio-inspired house designed by AI to look more natural than any building you have seen? Or let’s picture hundreds of sustainable homes to shelter the homeless constructed with 3D printers.

The list could go on. But now we can not only imagine those things but can actually bring them to life thanks to a merging of digital, material and biological realms, also known as the Fourth Industrial Revolution.

With the coming of Industry 4.0, architects aspiring for sustainability have tools to create the future they envision. Construction elements that grow with time, exuberant shapes that can repair themselves with bacteria, and homes that could keep you alive even on Mars. They are all here. Self-completing structures designed by the MIT Self-Assembly Lab and pavilions from a programmable biocomposite aguahoja by MIT’s Mediated Matter group are just a few examples of the new possibilities that will broaden our horizon.

Unlike many old construction approaches, 3D printed homes can feature unseen levels of precision and superinsulation, even while bringing material waste close to zero. No longer just floors or stairs but entire buildings can now be created by a handful of printers. Bridging together biomimicry and computational design allows us to bridge high-performance standards and unique aesthetic visions in one final products, exemplified by projects like the DNA Adaptive Blockchain skyscraper by Mamou Mani, which are robotically assembled on site in accordance with circular economy principles.

Other examples include an intelligent passive house prefabricated by and the 3D-printed community by ICON in partnership with New Story to provide comfortable living conditions for the homeless. But even before the building is started, innovative supply chain tools allow for choosing the most sustainable materials and suppliers, while Cradle to Cradle design with every element labeled in the database will forestall harm to nature. Every part can be effectively repaired, replaced and reused in the future.

Knowing future climate projections, architects can plan houses to withstand each possible climatic scenario for a given territory. Meanwhile, your new house might be able to monitor various ecosystem parameters and use data from online databases to let know whether it might not be able to withstand the shock from a coming super-storm and so it might be safer  to go down to the bunker.

All elements of a home can be linked into an effective network optimizing building efficiency and providing maximum comfort. Your autonomous household can even become a living organism, taking care of the garden, harvesting veggies and cooking food, and making sure nothing is wasted in the process.

When it comes to repairing and maintenance, AI is the architect’s best friend. A bright example comes from the Dutch city Zaanstad. Built on reclaimed land, the city had a hard time repairing the foundations of buildings. The solution came from a partnership between the housing authority and data scientists. A machine-learning algorithm was developed to predict which foundations are in need of immediate repair, based on over 135 million data records regarding buildings history, infrastructure, weather patterns, and satellite data. The algorithm enabled experts to identify 11,000 homes prioritized for repair, saving significant time and resources.

Thanks to advanced databases and AI, even demolition processes are changing and sometimes can be done automatically reversing the original construction process. Every material can get analyzed for its wear and tear and further reused in the best ways possible. In future, AI software that maintained your house might use what it learned throughout its lifecycle and draw on global experience to make the next sustainable home of your dream.

Almost all this, from start to finish, can be done by a machine. And while human labor might at times cost less and require fewer resources than building a machine to do all the work, once the machine is ready and powered by renewables, it can outcompete humans in terms of resource and energy efficiency, precision and overall quality of work.

With all the innovation, we must remain aware that such technologies require immense amounts of resources, and we should ensure that they don’t actually cause even greater resource depletion and mounting emissions. Technological innovation can still worsen inequalities and feed unemployment and 3D printers can make fatal mistakes due to inaccurate algorithms. At some point we might also simply run out of resources to make robots that will do everything for us.

Our imagination is cable of technological wonders but we still have to learn to balance those with the very real limits of the planet and the needs of many other beings that inhabit it. But at least for now the future for Industry 4.0 in sustainable architecture looks really bright.




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