Smart Materials

Smart Materials

In our opinion, the use of materials that change their properties in reaction to heat, moisture or light (Smart materials) will “revolutionise” architecture over the coming decades.

Buildings of the future will be able to change colour, size, shape and opacity in reaction to various stimuli. However, the real benefit of smart materials is environmental as these materials can take energy directly from the environment without the need for connecting to the Grid.

Smart behaviour occurs when a material can sense a stimulus from its environment and react to it in a useful, reliable, reproducible and usually reversible manner. A really Smart material will use its reaction to the external stimulus to initiate or actuate an active response, e.g. with an active control system.

Certain products already use Smart Materials. For instance, “thermochromic” materials are designed to change their colour at a particular temperature when a thermal stimulus causes a useful optical response. Children’s feeding spoons which change colour when the food is too hot are a good example and one humorous option is a thermochromatic urinal.

Another example of smart technology is garments woven with titanium that allow the fabric to react to temperature shifts. The shirt holds its wrinkles when folded but instantly relaxes when exposed to a current of hot air from an electric hair dryer. The shirt can thus be ‘ironed’ while its user wears it.

Rio recently proposed a thermochromatic cladding to wrap their design for a new newsagent’s kiosk at the Embankment, London. It was envisaged that the cladding changed into a range of colours depending on the outside temperature, turning the building into a colourful thermometer.

Imagine a cladding that glows when in contact with the rain. Electroluminescent lights could be linked to conductive water sensors within the panels. When water hits one of the sensors, the corresponding light lights up, creating a flickering pattern of illumination that mirrors the rhythm of rainfall.

There are endless possibilities for Smart material application.