Brian Johnson, Dubai: The Next Decade, GAJ, Nanotechnology

GAJ’s Brian Johnson predicts architects will start working with materials ‘we can only dream of’

To put nanotechnology in perspective, the head of a pin is one million nanometres, so one nanometre is a truly tiny measurement. Scientists can make a tube that is only two nanometres in diameter and a wire that’s only one nanometre thick!

The potential implications of nanotechnology on building material innovation are endless, ranging from self-cleaning glass that is being developed to incorporate nano-particles which, once hit by UV radiation from the sun, causes them to effectively jump about and loosen the dirt for the rain to wash it off, to special paints that inhibit mould growth, to special ingredients that make concrete last longer and even repair itself. I remember seeing an advert once for a piece of insulation material that was literally the thickness of a small biscuit, and you could put it above a flame on a Bunsen burner and put an ice cube on top of it and the ice cube wouldn’t melt any faster than it would have normally.

Scientists have developed new materials that are hundreds of times stronger than steel but at a fraction of the weight so that the technical limits of how far roof beams can span are constantly changing, and this, combined with wall constructions that are giving better and better insulation levels at a thicknesses of less than a third of what they are now will lead to a revolution in building techniques for all building types
The UAE is keen to be at the forefront of these technological advances and seems to be many times more committed to achieving this than the UK, as is evidenced by its enthusiasm for the Hyperloop, and the speed with which the UAE embraces such technology and makes decisions. Sometimes, it makes me embarrassed when I read about some of the things that happen in London.

There’s a huge potential for the way new materials evolve, and architects need to appreciate the implications of these changes on the way that design and construction engineering is carried out.
Architects are always interested in using new products but we need to be very careful that the use of new products does not have unexpected implications especially when used in conjunction with other materials and building methods, such as was the case in the recent catastrophic fire in London.

As technology moves forward, material manufacturers and consultants alike need to be careful and ensure that material testing, ideally in “real-life” mock up situations, is improved to address these concerns.
I believe that we’ll also come to rely more on natural renewable resources, on low-energy reprocessing and we’ll be committed to waste reduction. Most importantly though, we’ll be using materials that most of us – bearing in mind how old I am – never even dreamt of when we were studying to become architects.

This piece was written by Brian Johnson as part of Middle East Architect’s ‘Dubai: The Next Decade’ series.