Skyscrapers could soon be held together with glue, claim architects


Composite materials and adhesives could "revolutionise" construction and lead to entire towers being glued together, according to American architect Greg Lynn.

Carbon fibre, fibreglass and other structural plastics are lighter, stronger and cheaper than many traditional building materials.

Connecting these together with fast-drying glue is a quicker and more efficient method of construction, according to Greg Lynn, who said that this approach could replace the need for screws, rivets and bolts.

SFMOMA by Snohetta
The San Francisco Museum of Modern Art boasts the largest composite-based building facade in the USA

"The use of composites and adhesives could revolutionise engineering in every building type," he told science magazine New Scientist.

The magazine published a report by Geoff Manaugh, author of BLDG BLOG, on the emerging construction technique.

Reducing the weight of a skyscraper could both dramatically bring down the building's cost, and help stop it swaying during an earthquake.

"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," said Lynn, whose projects include a prototype for a carbon-fibre living pod.

Apple claims that the carbon-fibre roof of Campus 2 in Cupertino is the world's largest

The materials can be moulded and glued into almost any desired shape to span huge distances. This has led to use in projects such as the theatre at Apple Campus 2 in Cupertino, which the tech company believes has the world's largest freestanding carbon-fibre roof.

"These are fundamentally different material systems," said architect Bill Kreysler, who also spoke to the New Scientist.

Kreysler's firm worked on the modular exterior panels for the expansion of the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, due to open next month. The building boasts the largest composite-based building facade in the USA.

Other successful projects that have used composite materials on a large scale include the University of Maine's Take the Bridge in a Backpack initiative.

The team has built 18 lightweight road bridges from carbon-fibre tubes that can be assembled in less than two week, with individual arches light enough to be carried by four people.

Dubai-based company Premier Composite Technologies has provided materials to create movable, lightweight domes made from carbon fibre that provide shade in mosques, as well as a composite-based rail station in Medina.

University of Maine bridge
The Farm Access Overpass, 2011, is one of the projects completed as part of University of Maine's Take the Bridge in a Backpack initiative. Image courtesy of Advanced Infrastructure Technologies

Extra screws, rivets and bolts are currently used to connect carbon-fibre building elements as – despite its strength – glue is not trusted, according to the New Scientist's report.

Many adhesives perform poorly at high temperatures and can also feed flames. Composite exterior panels were recently blamed for spreading a fire at an Atkins-designed skyscraper in Dubai.

Kreysler and Lynn agreed that composite and adhesive-based construction methods need to be better incorporated into building regulations.

Medina roof construction
The roof of Medina station is constructed from composite panels. Image courtesy of Premier Composite Technologies

Testing would be expensive and time-consuming, but New Scientist speculates that the money might come from the oil industry, as petroleum is used to make many of the plastic-based composites.

Other construction techniques gaining traction include 3D printing, which has recently been used to create a sculptural facade for a European Union meeting building and a structure that generates its own power for off-grid living.

  • nsp234

    And recycling gets even worse.

  • HeywoodFloyd

    I’d be more comfortable with this claim being made by an engineer. Just sayin’…

  • Meme

    What about cross-laminated timber etc? Lynn only represents one side of the story.

  • Dominic Marshall

    Composites have been used for decades, the problem with GRP and other similar elements are their toxicity and effects when burnt. Personally I think unless I was living with Neptune or the gods in space I would prefer more earthly composite created from cellulose materials; cardboard, straw hemp or wood.

    It might be the mixed pallet with carbon fibre/GRP structural components with more natural composite elliments as the in-fill, external skin. It’s an interesting debate related to details, specification and of course application of various trades and professions working together in developing most environmentally orientated programs for our future needs.

  • Kayleigh

    Glue? How would its longevity be tested?

  • Colonel Pancake

    If civilisations were glued together, my kindergarten class was Babylon.

  • spadestick

    I am rubber, you are glue.

  • Jan Limon

    Does carbon fibre weather well over 20/ 30 years?

  • Concerned Citizen

    We already do hold them together with glue. Except, we call it “caulking”.

  • Jess Thinkin

    Dezeen, some of the glue must have found it’s way into your website. It’s become hopelessly slow and occasionally even jumps to un-summoned articles within your thread. No other webpage I frequent is doing this madcap binary dance. Love your site, but it’s becoming very difficult to negotiate!