Look at some of the most exciting construction projects currently underway and you’ll quickly see that composites are playing an ever-increasing role in architectural design. Architects are using everything from carbon fiber to fiber glass to create stunning new buildings capable of entirely changing a city’s skyline.
It is clear to anyone paying attention that architects are in love with composite materials. For example, the designers behind a massive new 1,000-seat theater built on Apple’s campus a couple of years ago chose composite materials for the building’s roof. Over in Japan, engineers working on a brand-new office building deployed carbon fiber strand rods to make the building more resistant to earthquakes. The rods also created a unique facade that really makes the building stand out.
So what is it about composites that architects love so much? According to comments made by architectural students attending the annual Composites Design Challenge, there are four reasons to love composites:
1. They Are Lightweight
Building with steel comes with certain weight considerations. There needs to be solid ground underneath a building to support all the weight. Thus, skyscrapers built in cities like New York and Chicago are anchored to bedrock that sits well below the surface. A lack of bedrock limits total weight.
Consider a place like Florida. You don’t see huge skyscrapers in Florida cities because the ground cannot support the weight. That’s where composites come in. Architects love them because composites are lighter than steel. They allow for building bigger and taller structures even on land that might not support a steel structure of equal size.
2. They Are Strong
A major advantage of composites over steel and aluminum is their strength-to-weight ratios. Carbon fiber is a great example, according to Rock West Composites. Carbon fiber is significantly stronger than both steel and aluminum, which is why the marine and aerospace industries use it so much.
Strength is equally important to architects. Their designs must account for a plethora of forces that seek to bring a building to the ground using materials that will stand up to those forces. Carbon fiber is as strong as they come. Most composites are.
3. They Are Malleable
Many of the students at the Composites Design Challenge spoke of the malleability of composites. The dictionary definition of ‘malleable’ doesn’t really apply to composites, but the point is still well made. Composites can be fabricated into a virtually limitless number of shapes to create very impressive architectural statements. There are things you can do with composites that just aren’t possible with steel, aluminum, and glass.
Some of the most impressive construction projects now underway are almost impossible to wrap our brains around. We’re seeing buildings that appear to defy everything we know about architectural design. At the core of these buildings are composite materials.
4. They Are Exciting
The fourth reason architects love composites is actually a combination of the first three. The lightweight, strength, and malleable properties of composites make them extremely exciting to work with. Again, one need look no further than a small handful of recent construction projects.
Take the biometric pavilion at the University of Stuttgart in Germany. The pavilion’s cover looks like a massive spiderweb. It was created by spinning carbon fiber strands into a framework. Then there is the new Apple Store that opened last year at the Dubai Mall in the UAE. The impressive building makes heavy use of composite materials.
Architects love composites because they are lightweight, strong, malleable, and exciting. That about says it all.