Concept Sketch: Life Bricks
What if bricks, instead of being inert, CO2 emitting, handy blocks of modern architecture were living, responsive, dynamic blocks?
When we first heard of Professor Dosier's bio-brick printer we were smitten. A brick that works with bacteria to fuse together sand. Saving on all the expensive and energy intensive heating processes that cement or bricks need. The current limitations on Dosier's bricks seems to be speed and perhaps a reason to change beyond reducing CO2 emission. Our imaginations started to run wild, without the heat of firing what else could be included in the brick making process! We are happy to share some of our thoughts on how we might be able to build a better brick.
Bacteria are too slow. When we want something we want it now, preferably at the touch of a button. So instead of letting our bricks depend on the bacteria to slowly bind the sand, we instead propose a near instantaneous 'set' technique that then gives way to the bacteria's whims over time. This involves using something we love to play with- molecular silk. Imagine if we used molecular grade silk protein (fibroin) as the glue between the grains of the sand.
As spiders and silk worms know, silk is very strong, and goes from a liquid to a solid with simple dehumidification techniques. Laboratories (including ours) regularly use molecular silk as a bio-material of almost infinite possibilities. We think it just might be possible to let our bricks sit in the breeze for a few minutes, and it is time to start using. The speed of brick production could go way up, and an added benefit may be the bricks would start to stick to each other without mortar.
The kicker of the brick however, is that these ones are alive! Not only could the bacteria eat the silk binder to create a more permanent bond, but also the bricks would fuse together as a building! Talk about an organic structure.
But what we like most is the ability to start adding some functional capability to the brick beyond just resisting compression (a noble job sure, but in 2000 years you can learn a few new tricks). Embedding enzymes is already done with silk for implants into the human body, including enzymes in bricks allows us to perform a wide range of functions with our cities. Our Life Bricks would digest pollution, and capture heavy metals in the atmosphere.
There is also the possibility that some of the bricks could glow or respond like a firefly in the night. When bricks start to respond to their environment, a whole new host of ways of interacting emerges, there are millions of possibilities as these Life Bricks become smart.
Emergency crews could flip a switch and the Life-Bricks would show you to the exits. Life-Bricks can change color when walked on showing common footpaths in a city. Some Life-Bricks responded to pollution levels, glowing brighter when healthy, reminding people to take care of their living city. Many Life-Bricks actually cultivate pro-biotic bacteria that help keep us healthy. And some Life-Bricks have started interacting with our electronics, learning to respond to specific people's cell phones by emitting different scents into the air.
The world begins to take on new possibilities when we open up manufacturing to being life friendly, possibilities that we think are not only amazing, but far better for us and our environment. Our built environment can be responsive, and adaptive, and full of life. Thanks Professor Dosier for the inspiration, and we are adding Life-Bricks to our project portfolio.