Carleton students investigate sustainable building materials

Carleton graduate students in the Carleton Sensory Architecture and Liminal Technologies (CSALT) laboratory tackle the issue of high carbon concrete with sustainable building materials.

Carleton graduate students in the Carleton Sensory Architecture and Liminal Technologies (CSALT) laboratory are working to tackle the issue of high carbon concrete by developing new sustainable building materials.   

The CSALT lab is divided into three separate workshops. One is being used by  Robin Papp, another by  Sinan Husic and the third by studio teaching fellow Jesse Bird, a recent architecture master’s graduate who is working on a building material made from recovered paper and cardboard.

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Papp is working to create hemp building blocks that perform well as insulation and, with the right compression, also work as a structural material in walls. Husic is taking a different approach by using a 3D printer to produce thin slabs of ultra-high-performance concrete.  

Papp mixes hemp biomass—the byproduct of rope and fabric manufacturing, with virtually no THC content, that would otherwise be considered waste—with water and lime and other natural additives and pours the resulting mixture into a four-inch by four-inch form, presses the material, and then removes the form to let it dry.  

This “hempcrete” is breathable and works well as insulation, whereas the building envelopes typically used are like plastic bags with supplemental ventilation systems—an important distinction at a time when COVID-19 has drawn attention to the need for clean, healthy air. 

Papp also uses a small hydraulic press to experiment with denser, stronger hemp panels that could be used as a structural material. 

Husic explores both digitally-fabricated and handcrafted concrete. The final product of his thesis will be a life-size 3D printed concrete chair. 

Husic is also gaining an understanding of how thin concrete can be cast. A half-inch-thick slab of the ultra-high-performance concrete he is working on could have the same strength as a six-inch-thick piece of conventional concrete, which on a large construction project can lead to significant carbon savings.

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