Bioreceptive Concrete Facades

Design research - 2015-17 BiotA Lab
EPSRC-funded research Computational Seeding of Bioreceptive Materials, Bartlett UCL, London UK [built]. 

Research team: Professor Marcos Cruz (Principal Investigator – architectural design); Bill Watts (environmental engineering); Richard Beckett (design and manufacturing); Dr Sandra Manso Blanco (biology and material science); Dr Chris Leung (environmental testing and research engineering); Javier Ruiz (computation)
Industrial Partner: Laing O'Rourke (Michael Pelken)
Strategic Advisory Board: Professor Alan Penn (Dean Bartlett Faculty of the Built Environment); Professor Marc-Olivier Coppens (UCL Centre for Nature-Inspired Engineering); Professor Nima Shokri (Multiphase Flow and Porous Media Research Group / University of Manchester); Professor Peter Bishop (Bartlett School of Architecture); Professor Antonio Aguado (Polytechnic University of Catalonia); Richard Sabin (Biotecture - green walls specialists); Professor Mark Miodownik (UCL Institute of Making); Dr Brenda Parker (UCL Department of Biochemical Engineering / UCL

Algae); Joanna Gibbons (Landscape Architecture); Elinor Huggett (Max Fordham); Andrew Minson (British Precast Concrete Federation); Peter Scully - Paul Crudge - Nick Westby (UCL B-Made)
Photo credit: Paul Smoothy

Computational Seeding of Bioreceptive Materials is a research project focused on developing a new type of bioreceptive façade panels for our built environment. Using a novel type of bioreceptive concrete and environmentally driven design, the panels aim to promote micro-organic growth directly on building façades and infrastructure walls.

Outdoor Observational Study: The bioreceptive panels were exposed at a north-west facing orientation for data collection and analysis. The randomly ordered observation system recorded raw quantitative data including photography of biocolonisation as well as measurement of biomass, presence of moisture, and thermal regulation.

Following an in-depth computationally study, 3 geometry types were chosen for fabrication and testing, encompassing a full seasonal observation study of 18 panels, split into the 3 geometry types with a pair-wise comparison between seeded Magnesium Phosphate Concrete panels and Ordinary Portland Concrete panels.

Research: Bioreceptive concrete facades are being designed and tested as innovative wall-panel systems capable of enhancing bio-colonization of building facades. By utilizing novel design and digital fabrication methods, surface morphology and roughness are enhanced to improve the facade performance through the implementation of a new type of biologically receptive concrete, cast to overcome the limitations of ‘green walls’ that have proven expensive to implement and maintain.
Control of tool paths allow diversifying patterns of surface geometry 
Magnesium Phosphate Concrete with high porosity and low ph level
 Ordinary Portland Concrete with low porosity and high ph level

The project responds to the urgency of improving the environmental quality of our cities. Climate change, increasing levels of pollution, and the loss of pervious surfaces within the urban fabric, has resulted in an ongoing effort of making our cities greener and more sustainable, especially in the developed world. Building envelopes, in particular roofs and facades, have been targeted as an opportunity for greening. Different from common ‘green walls’ the proposed bioreceptive façade panels address the increasing loss of cryptogamic cover surfaces (algae, bryophytes and lichen) in our cities.

The research on Bioreceptive Concrete Facades is at the stage of being applied onto a variety of building or infrastructural surfaces in order to analyse the long-term performance of these innovative designs. Biologically receptive cementitious materials have been studied and chemically altered to provide pH levels, porosity values and water retention properties that are favourable for microorganisms to establish and proliferate. The adoption of biologically receptive concrete as a means of fostering green growth has the potential for the building’s façade itself to become the biological substratum for the growth of photosynthetic systems.
The bioreceptive panels aim to be applied over a range of urban contexts with a particular opportunity for infrastructural projects, including large-scale retaining walls, elevated railway lines and embankment walls, as well as furniture and pavements in public spaces. This can also be applied to buildings ranging in scale and typology from individual houses or housing blocks to the many blank and rather ‘wasted’ building façades of larger buildings.