Sustainable design is a valuable part of our ethos at Optima as we strive to create vibrant communities built with the surrounding natural environment at the forefront. Now more than ever before, changemakers across the world are expanding the possibilities for what sustainable designs resemble. Today, we’re spotlighting a leader in sustainable design and affordable construction: Gjenge Makers and its founder, Nzambi Matee.
In 2017, Nzambi Matee, then an engineer working for Kenya’s oil industry, threw everything she knew away to create a startup aimed to address the need for affordable and sustainable construction materials in her home country of Kenya and across the world. Her first thought immediately went to plastic, a material creating pollution problems across Eastern African countries like Kenya, where Matee has resided her whole life.
Thanks to her academic background, including a major in material science, along with experience working as an engineer, Matee understood which plastics would easily bind together and built the needed machinery, allowing her to mass produce the building alternative. Today, Gjenge collects waste materials from local factories and other recyclers and then uses a mixture of plastic and sand to form durable bricks and tiles.
The designs aren’t just sustainable and durable. Matee and the Gjenge team wanted the finished products to emulate a sense of beauty, and today, bricks come in an array of colors, including red, blue, brown and green. Since its founding, Gjenge has transformed more than 22 tons of plastic into various alternative building materials and created more than 100 jobs for local garbage collectors, women and youth.
We can’t wait to continue exploring the ways innovative architecture can contribute to a healthier, more sustainable world, especially with changemakers like Matee impacting the lives of others daily.
As technology continues to advance, changemakers and visionaries are discovering ways to push the boundaries of sustainable design in architecture. Today, we’re spotlighting five of the most innovative materials currently in development that are setting the stage for the future of architecture and design.
Engineered at the Indian School of Design and Innovation in Mumbai, the Green Charcoal Loofah Brick is another revolutionary twist on traditional brick material. Soil, cement, charcoal and organic loofah fibers – the plant commonly used in sponges – make up the lightweight, biodegradable product.
Similar to the cavernous gaps that are found in loofahs, the bricks’ fibrous network allows it to double as a home for plants and animals to thrive. The bricks’ pours also act as water chambers, which, when filled with water, act as a coolant for the structures they support. While the name might suggest charcoal is a significant part of the material’s build, it only appears on the brick’s surface, purifying the air by absorbing a compound used for growing plants.
Hemp is one of the most carbon-sequestering and strongest fibers on the planet, making it a perfect material to shift the future of architecture. Engineers at the Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute developed the low-cost, low-carbon alternative to traditional steel rebar. One of the material’s most outstanding features is its ability to avoid corrosion, further extending the potential lifespan of the structure it is used to build.
The rebar’s sustainable makeup has the potential to decrease construction time and triple the lifespan of the most costly traditional infrastructure — including everything from bridges to dams to seawalls. Its engineers intend the product to be cost-competitive, making it an obvious alternative material choice for future builds.
An ever-growing number of engineers are discovering how to incorporate mycelium – a root-like structure of fungus that creates a network of threads and branches – into their designs, with a huge impact on advancing sustainable design. One of the teams leading the drive is Blast Studio in London. Their team takes advantage of mycelium’s strong webbing structure to form columns that not only support builds but also grow mushrooms.
The tree-like structure is made up of a mixture of mycelium fiber and recycled coffee cups. After being constructed through 3D printing, the mycelium eventually consumes the recycled material and grows to command the entire form of the column. Along with cultivating its own food, the dynamic material also produces natural insulation and fire-retardant properties. While mycelium-based materials are still sparse, more and more engineers and architects are beginning to see their advantages in designs.
One of the best single-use alternatives to fibreboard, corkboard and even wood, Chip[s] Board is finding its place in today’s architecture landscape. Created by Rowan Minkley and Robert Nicoll, the biodegradable material is one of the healthiest building components used on the planet due to its absence of toxic chemicals or resins like formaldehyde. When creating the material, Minkley and Nicoll were set on combining the issues of material and food waste – eventually resulting in the sustainable wood substitute.
The product’s name is a play on the ingredients used to make it, which includes a blend of potato peel binding agents mixed with fibers from potatoes, bamboo, wood or hops. To develop Chip[s] Board, the blended composite is heat-pressed into a sturdy board that becomes functional in everything from furniture to buildings.
Invented by Gabriela Meder, an engineering professor at Edinburgh’s Heriot-Watt University, the K-Briq is one of the leading sustainable and recycled brick materials today. The unfired brick is made of 90% construction waste and produces less than 10% of carbon emission in manufacturing compared to clay bricks, making it an obvious low-carbon alternative in construction.
Designers of 2020’s Serpentine Pavilion – an annual design commission known for its experiential architecture – were one of the first to utilize the brick due to its versatility and similarity to the weight, look and functionality of standard bricks. Meder, who spent ten years developing the K-Briq, still produces it herself through her company Kenoteq.
With new forms of sustainable design being created daily, we can’t wait to continue exploring the ways innovative architecture can contribute to a healthier, more sustainable world.
At Optima, sustainable design has always been part of our ethos, as we strive to create vibrant communities built with the surrounding natural environment at the forefront. And as technology continues pushing the boundaries of sustainability in architecture, we wanted to explore what the future might possibly hold.
Historically, sustainable architecture has focused on lush outdoor environments, and at Optima, we know the benefits of urban greenspaces, which is why we have incorporated them into our communities for decades. Urban greenspaces and vertical landscaping are just some of the many sustainable features found in many of our Optima communities that help promote mental and physical health, while mitigating pollution and emulating the feeling of oasis.
Today, as new age modernism continues to evolve and environmentalism exceeds formalism, designers and architects are developing new ways to create built environments that also benefit the Earth. The newest approach to sustainable architecture is found within regenerative building.
Regenerative building looks beyond lessening harmful impact; it seeks ways to repair and restore the surrounding environment. In the regenerative design process, innovators conceive ways for each building to produce its own energy, treat its own water and emit a net-positive impact on the environment.
While global contests like Redesign the Worldare encouraging designers to envision radical solutions to end environmental issues through built communities, some architects have begun to bring regenerative building to life.
Buildings like The Kendeda Building For Innovative Sustainable Design found on Georgia Tech’s campus and Portal High School in Irvine, California use green roofs and water collection systems to reduce reliance on negative forms of energy. Other buildings like Nova Scotia Community College’s Centre for the Built Environment take advantage of multiple sustainable design features like living walls, geothermal systems and solar and wind energy to regenerate and restore their surroundings.
As sustainable approaches to design continue to expand over time, we can’t wait to continue exploring how – through architecture – we can change contribute to a healthier, more sustainable environment.