Regenerative building – will our houses soon grow on the seabed? – Knowledge


Around 40 percent of global CO2 emissions can be traced back to buildings. How about using mineralized CO2 to build?

From his earliest youth, Michael Pawlyn was equally enthusiastic about design, biology and the environment. After studying architecture, he was significantly involved in a visionary project that combines all three themes: The Eden Project in England.


Michael Pawlyn draws inspiration from nature for his designs.


Eden is a 50 hectare botanical garden that is home to the largest greenhouse rainforest in the world. Pawlyn was partly responsible for the distinctive dome structure, which even served as a backdrop in the Bond film “The Another Day”.

Copied from mussels

For these domes, the enterprising Brit was inspired by several natural features. In particular, shellfish shells. Because although mussel shells or snail shells only consist of a thin layer of lime, their curvature makes them particularly stiff and stable.

Instead of glass plates, Pawlyn used transparent plastic sheet pillows. They are filled with air and therefore extremely stable. The round, light components interlock like shells. Due to this lightweight construction, the energy for the production of the components and the construction could be reduced by 99 percent. It is true that pneumatically supported cushions have also been used selectively in the past. However, the dimensions of the Eden domes of 30,000 square meters surpassed anything previously seen.

We need to move from sustainable to regenerative design.

Architecture and construction are working on ever more sustainable construction methods. Today’s buildings are already much more energy efficient than they were decades ago. But even the most sustainable construction uses resources and causes CO2 emissions. It needs a next step. “We need to move from sustainable design to regenerative design,” says Pawlyn. In the future, architects will have to design buildings that have a positive impact on the environment.

Making a building material out of CO2

The architect is therefore pursuing an ambitious goal. He wants to use mineralized CO2 from the atmosphere as a building material, so-called Biorock. The technology already exists and is being used to rebuild destroyed coral reefs.

The solution is copied from nature: from unicellular calcareous algae. Your body is encased in a sphere of calcium carbonate – fossilized CO2. When the algae die, the shells sink to the seabed and form limestone.

“One of the solutions to global warming would be to produce more material from mineralized CO2 from the air,” Pawlyn is convinced. Biorock technology can transform this into a very strong material.

A theater that grows underwater

First, Pawlyn wants to create a little theater out of the material. It resembles a shell in shape. And it should grow completely in the sea. For this purpose, a steel construction made of thin wires is sunk in the sea, through which a weak electric current is passed. As a result, the minerals dissolved in the water become encrusted and create a structure that is as resilient as reinforced concrete.

When it has finished growing, it is to be brought to the surface as a finished building. Using fossilized CO2 to grow entire buildings underwater is an ambitious project. But such visions are needed to reduce emissions from today’s energy-intensive construction.

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