Ever since there were buildings and houses, and ever since they were builders and architects, construction has involved maintaining a series of balances; a balance between form and function, between design aspirations and financial constraints, and between artistic expression (as manifest in the works of architects) and the practical concerns of the construction sector.
To these, in 2021, we have to add the demands placed on the construction industry by climate change, the need to meet carbon emission targets, and sustainability in general.
Whether they are used on the roof, the façade, or inside in the bathroom, building materials have an important role to play in maintaining these various balances. Modern construction materials invariably arrive on the scene, along with promises that they will help architects meet their design aspirations, help builders translate those aspirations into reality, and help an industry as it grapples with its obligations to cut emissions.
So, what are these modern building materials? Here is a selection of some of the best.
The best types of modern building materials available today
1. 3D Graphene
A material that is hailed as being ten times stronger than steel 3D graphene, we are told, is set to revolutionize 3D printing. Beyond its strengths, this material is also has antibacterial and thermal qualities to add to its strength elasticity and durability. This is one of the modern construction materials with huge future potential.
If we're talking about modern construction materials, we have to start with concrete. Not only is this ubiquitous material the most used building material on earth, but it has also long been a key component of modern architecture. While on the positive side its popularity derives from the fact but it can be molded as desired, it does have its negatives. For example, concrete is responsible for 5% of the world's greenhouse gas emissions.
As is the case for concrete, it would surely be impossible to discuss modern building materials without mentioning steel. The cities skylines we are all familiar with would be impossible without it. But the story doesn't begin and end with structural steel of course. Strong, lightweight and durable, it is also a great material for window and door frames, door handles, hand rails and so forth. It is an increasingly common feature in all types of buildings.
What would architecture be today without glass; without the windows that allow us to maintain our connection to the outside world. One thing to note is that not all windows are the same. Research and development efforts have resulted in the introduction of glass materials that improve things like U value and thermal efficiency, and beyond that there has even been news of efforts to develop ‘intelligent’ glass.
Although it's also one of the world's oldest building materials, wood and timber definitely deserve their place in any list of modern building materials. The unquenchable popularity of this material, which perhaps derives from the simple fact that it is organic, appear to suggest that wood will never go out of fashion. Obviously, the issue of sustainability is a concern and all efforts to put an end to deforestation are worth supporting, but it seems that wood will always have a place in architecture. The rise of engineered timbers is a step forward that is worse keeping an eye on.
While when it is produced in the forms with which we are most familiar (as plastic bags, packaging, and so one), plastic has rightly received a lot of negative press, this ubiquitous material does have a lot of interesting architectural potential. 3D printing is one path that springs to mind as an interesting way forward, as does the field of bio plastics.
7. Carbon fiber
A material that his famously been cited as having five times the strength of steel but also is much lighter than steel, carbon fiber clearly has huge potential in architectural contexts. when it comes to carbon fiber, the best advised is surely – ‘watch this space’.
8. Organic materials
As with the previous entry on our list, the advice for considering organic materials in an architectural context is ‘watch this space’. As the planet stumbles apprehensively through environmental crises, and our understanding of organic materials grows, such avenues of research are surely grounds for hope. As a species and as a planet, what do we have to lose?
Modern construction materials in use
Plastic at the national Aquatics Center in Beijing
The site at which the swimming and diving events took place at the 2008 Beijing Summer Olympics, the National Aquatic Center (known also as the Watercube) features a skin made with ETFE, which is a durable plastic often used as a roofing material.
Steel at Oatley station
This contemporary steel truss bridge located at Oatley train station in Sydney is reminiscent of older steel bridges across the Sydney rail network.
Timber at bar/restaurant in Adelaide
Located only St in Adelaide, a well-known and vibrant part of the city this establishment, which sits snugly between two office buildings, highlights the contemporary use of timber.
Glass office building in northern Sydney
Located in the northern Sydney suburb of Macquarie park this office building, which at first glance appears something like a glass box, also incorporate several other modern building materials like timber and aluminium on its exterior.