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Bioengineered Brick Wins 2010 Metropolis Next Generation Design Prize
Posted: Wednesday, May 12, 2010 |

An American architecture professor, Ginger Krieg Dosier, 32, Assistant Professor of Architecture at American University of Sharjah (AUS) in Abu Dhabi, has won this year’s prestigious Metropolis Next Generation Design Prize for “Biomanufactured Brick.” The 2010 Next Generation Prize Challenge was “ONE DESIGN FIX FOR THE FUTURE” - a small fix to change the world. The Next Generation judges decided that Professor Dosier’s well-documented and -tested plan to replace clay-fired brick with a brick made with bacteria and sand, met the challenge perfectly.

“The ordinary brick - you would think that there is nothing more basic than baking a block of clay in an oven,” said Horace Havemeyer, Publisher of Metropolis. “Ginger Dosier’s idea is the perfect example of how making a change in an almost unexamined part of our daily lives can have an enormous impact on the environment.”


1-2-3 brick-making with Dosier’s competition-winning concept: pour the bacteria solution together with the cementing solution over the sand inside the formwork, let it saturate and harden (currently about one week) - voilà: we have an ecobrick!

There are over 1.3 trillion bricks manufactured each year worldwide, and over 10% are made by hand in coal-fired ovens. On average, the baking process emits 1.4 pounds of carbon per brick - more than the world’s entire aviation fleet. In countries like India and China, outdated coal-fired brick kilns consume more energy, emit more carbon, and produce great quantities of particulate air pollution. Dosier’s process replaces baking with simple mixing, and because it is low-tech (apart from the production of the bacterial activate), can be done onsite in localities without modern infrastructure. The process uses no heat at all:mixing sand and non-pathogenic bacteria (sporosar) and putting the mixture into molds. The bacteria induce calcite precipitation in the sand and yield bricks with sandstone-like properties. If biomanufactured bricks replaced each new brick on the planet, it would save nearly 800 million tons of CO2 annually.


One of Dosier’s many ecobrick experiments in the lab

Professor Dosier, was trained as an architect (at Auburn University, Rural Studio, and Cranbrook Academy) and teaches architecture.  But she studied microbiology, geology, and materials science in her spare time, most recently when she was teaching architecture at North Carolina State University. The results - which have been tested with Lego-sized bricks in research at AUS - impress architects and geologists alike. Grant Ferris, professor of geology at the University of Toronto, says that in all the scientific studies of microbial mineral precipitation, there has been little or no work on the “fabrication of construction or design materials,” which is what makes the Next Generation winner’s work “so compelling.”


Bacteria is dunked in a broth of growth media. The solution then incubates in test tubes at 37˚C before it’s fed into sand-filled formwork via drip.

“There was a strong feeling among the judges that the award should go to someone dealing with an issue on a global scale,” says Next Generation juror Chris Sharples, of SHoP Architects. “Here was a very simple concept defined by scientific method and an example of how you can come up with some very innovative ways to solve basic problems.”


Sand layer diagram

“Ginger Dosier’s achievement is a tribute not only to her own imagination and grit, but serves as an example of how designers can make an outsize contribution to creating a more sustainable world,” said Susan Szenasy, editor-in-chief of Metropolis. “We challenged the design community to produce a “small (but brilliant and elegant) ‘fix’” for the designed environment. We were surprised that an object with no moving parts - the brick - could be redesigned in so profound a way. But there were many entries that fully met the challenge of producing One Design Fix - and they show that the design community as a whole is overflowing with the imagination, knowledge, intuition, and skills to produce not just one but hundreds of fixes that can affect our planet today and for centuries to come.”


Digital bricks: Dosier will soon be able to print bricks of all shapes and sizes on rapid-prototyping machines.

The judges for the 2010 competition were Tama Duffy Day, FASID, IIDA, LEED AP; Ellen Lupton, director of the Graphic Design MFA program at Maryland Institute College of Art (MICA) in Baltimore; Joel Makower, co-founder, Greener World Media; and Christopher Sharples, RA, founding partner, SHoP Architects. Susan S. Szenasy moderated the deliberations.

Created by Metropolis magazine in 2003, the annual Next Generation Design Competition recognizes outstanding ideas from young architects and designers for making our built environment better, safer and more sustainable. See full coverage in the May Issue of Metropolis.

2010 Next Generation Runners-Up Projects (more info here):

The MakerBot Industries Cupcake CNC - Bre Pettis and Adam Mayer
Brooklyn, NY

The Makerbot Cupcake CNC is an affordable, open-source 3D printer. It comes as a kit that can live on your desktop, printing out almost anything you can imagine. The MakerBot Industries Cupcake CNC is also open source, so you can download all the digital designs for it and know exactly how it works.

Canop’City - Alejo Paillard
Venice, CA

A proposed series of infrastructural nodes addressing the environmental and social challenges of informal settlements in today’s megalopolis. Tree-like forms provide a structure into which infrastructure such as water electricity, transportation, and recreational space can be provided for underprivileged informal settlements with no pre-existing infrastructure. It would improve the ground level habitability of outdoor spaces within the dense villages and informal settlements (providing shade and shelter as well as water management), making them more attractive both for inhabitants and visitors.

Solar Masonry Unit - Alexander Keller
Providence, RI

Solar Masonry Units collect, store, and transfer solar energy. With the battery and inverter located within a structural shell made from recycled plastic, the completely integrated unit resolves the clutter of external equipment associated with existing solar technology.

Outfeet - Aviya Serfaty
Tel Aviv, Israel

A prosthetic leg designed especially for women. It includes a collection of flexible skins which can be stretched over the carbon fiber body giving it the volume and silhouette of a leg without overloading it. Outfeet gives the amputee the ability to re-create herself according to mood, event, and desired look. It addresses a neglected group-amputated women who would not only like to be able to recover mobility but to do so in a way that helps them to overcome trauma and resume their active life.

Ocean Harvest - Matthew Kihm and Simone Niquille
Providence, RI

Ocean Harvest is a system of buoys traveling within the parameters of the North Pacific Trash Gyre (an area that may range in size from the state of Texas to the continental United States that is filled with floating plastic debris).  Ocean Harvest’s buoys emit a small electro-static field. This field will charge surrounding polymer particles and cause them to cling to the filter. This project will take the harmful secondary plastics out of the ocean that threaten the ecosystem. After the plastics are harvested, they will be brought into shore and recycled.

The Marine Satellite - Jungsoo Ki and Jewu Choe
Soel, Korea

The Marine Satellite is a completely self-sufficient floating mechanism. Powered by solar panels, stored electricity will be transmitted to an inverter, which changes Direct Current (DC) from a battery to Alternating Current (AC). Then the inverted electricity powers an electromotor. In addition, propellers amplify the effect of the current in moving the satellite rendering it a semi permanent mechanism operating with a carbon footprint of zero. UNEP estimates that there is currently over 13,000 pieces of plastic litter floating on every square kilometer of ocean. The Marine Satellite with 36 crevices along the side, similar to the gills of a shark, which open in the opposite direction as the screws, revolves to collect some of the floating ocean trash.

Sprouting Glass Sand Bags - Dru Lamb
New Orleans, LA

Sprouting Glass Sand Bags are biodegradable bags packed with a mixture of glass sand, soil, and seeds. The bags could be allowed to sprout before being installed in wall formations along the coast of Louisiana. The sand would be made by crushing glass recyclables from the New Orleans area. Louisiana’s coast is eroding at an astounding rate, and these sand bags would take an environmental nuisance and convert it into an environmental benefit.

The Solar TeXter - Donna Zimmerman, Alyssa Lees, Katrina Cass, Simon Spagnoletti, and Helene Kenny
Brooklyn, NY

Texting is a vital means of communication in rural areas of developing countries. The Solar TeXter is designed to be inexpensive, streamlined, and self-sufficient, and will help to empower the residents of these areas, for whom texting is a necessity - but is out of reach for far too many because of expense and inaccessible or unreliable electricity. Short Message Service (SMS) transmissions are now much cheaper than phone calls, require minimal energy or data storage, and instantly send information to one or more recipients. The 21st century deserves a polyglot SMS device that is highly functional, low-cost, linked to satellites, and run on renewable energy, empowering people with greater access to information and each other.

The Octa.Bot system - Alexis Rochas
Los Angeles, CA

The Octa.Bot system is a new joint concept that consists of freely rotating elements inside robust tectonic assemblies. The product seeks to streamline the design and assembly process into a simple, robust, and versatile building system. The joint is meant to be used with the SPACE FRAME introduced by Alexander Graham Bell. The lightweight structure constructed from interlocking struts allows for a substantial building-mass reduction. While theoretically the SPACE-FRAME has a great range of structural and formal versatility, most often its geometry is hampered by the material difficulty of plotting exceptional node encounters. The OCTA.BOT fitting greatly simplifies execution of complex assemblies by overriding construction of complex angular encounters between structural members.

Images via Metropolis

Tuesday, May 25, 2010
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