Composite materials are more like rigid fabrics. Sticking them together results in building-sized components that can sometimes be set hard in just a few seconds, depending on the adhesives used. Composite materials are already used to make high-performance yachts, wind turbine blades, large passenger aircraft such as Boeing’s carbon fibre Dreamliner and even commercial spacecraft such as SpaceShipOne.
Geoff Manaugh wrote an article about skyscraper glue in New Urbanist which was covered by New Scientist magazine.
Lighter buildings are also cheaper. “If you can take 30 per cent of the weight out of the upper section of a building by using lightweight composite materials, you could end up saving between 70 and 80 per cent of the material in the entire structure,” says Greg Lynn of Yale University.
Most skyscrapers are built around a steel frame, which expands in the heat much more quickly than other materials, such as masonry cladding. But composite buildings are monocoque structures, like the hulls of sailing boats. Such buildings fare much better as they expand and contract. “The skin is the structure,” says Kreysler.
What’s more, composite structures are typically made from fewer parts, so assembly is simpler. But this also makes those structures stronger – sticking a smaller number of parts together along large surface areas beats bolting or nailing them together at specific, vulnerable points.
Of course, there are down sides. Most adhesives deteriorate rapidly in a fire and can even feed a blaze. Recently, composites have been blamed for a hotel fire in Dubai – materials used on the building’s exterior are thought to have fuelled the flames.
SOURCES – New Scientist, New Urbanist (Geoff Manaugh)