Buildings Based On Human Bone Structure Could Be the Future of Cities

Artist's depiction of futuristic city

Kelsey Campbell-Dollaghan from

Buildings Based On Human Bone Structure Could Be the Future of Cities

Biomimicry borrows design solutions from the embedded intelligence within animals’ bodies—chiefly from other species. But occasionally, it also borrows from within the human body. For example, a new study from MIT suggests that buildings of the future could be built with super-strong materials based on the structure of human bones.

In a study published yesterday in Advanced Functional Materials, MIT researchers explain how studying human bones led to the creation of three super-materials. Human bones, you see, are made up of microscopic layers of collagen (the stuff your tendons are made from) and hydroxyapatite (which is more like your teeth). Together, they form a stronger structure—a bit like brick and mortar—and make our bones capable of withstanding an incredible amount of force.

The MIT group applied the same principle to three synthetic materials, layering them on a microscopic scale using a 3D printer. The result was a hybrid material with a staggering 22 times the strength of any single material. Wired UK writer Liat Clark explains:

The team first designed the three materials using computer software: bone and nacre (mother of pearl); mineral calcite and a snakeskin-like diamond-patterned material. Each material […] would be made from two synthetic materials to “micrometer resolution”, with one acting as the bricks and the other the cement. The mother of pearl-type material was made from a microscopic structure that looks like a wall, while the calcite saw the materials swapped round so the cement was actually made up of the stiffer material, and the bricks the softer.

The paper describes these hybrids as “metamaterials,” and posits that the future of of architecture lies in figuring out how to spend less energy fabricating more efficient buildings. By altering the hierarchical design of materials on a micro level, architects may, eventually, end up altering the way buildings are constructed at a macro scale. In fact, plenty of designers are experimenting with similar ideas—for example, using parametric modeling software to optimize the shape of columns based on stress loads.

Markus Buehler, the head of MIT’s Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering and a lead author on the study, describes the findings as a way to borrow from nature while pursuing the future. “The geometric patterns we used in the synthetic materials are based on those seen in natural materials like bone or nacre, but also include new designs that do not exist in nature,” he said in a statement. “As engineers we are no longer limited to the natural patterns. We can design our own, which may perform even better than the ones that already exist.”

The biggest challenge, so far, is one of scale: 3D printing is still too expensive and inaccurate to scale production up to the building scale. Still, as Harvard’s Jennifer Lewis put it, “this research is a wonderful example of how 3-D printing can be used to fabricate complex architectures that emulate those found in nature.” [Wired UK]

Buildings Based On Human Bone Structure Could Be the Future of Cities

“This photo shows the brick-and-mortar pattern of simulated bone and nacre against the backdrop of real nacre found in the inner shell of many mollusks,” explain the folks at MIT.

[Full article]

A Green, Ultra-Modern Makeover for America’s Busiest Train Station

By Joseph Flaherty from

Penn Station is the most heavily trafficked train depot in the United States, a cultural icon, and sorely in need of a makeover. But upgrading this century-old station has been difficult because it’s underneath another thriving landmark, Madison Square Garden (MSG). However, a recent city ruling would end MSG’s lease on the land in 2023, so the Municipal Art Society of New York commissioned four prominent architecture firms to provide a vision for what the station could be without consideration for the Knick’s games and Phish concerts that are usually happening overhead.

Skidmore, Owings & Merrill (SOM), which has ambitious projects with iconic structures like the Freedom Tower and Burj Khalifa to its credit, was one of the firms selected to reimagine the station. True to form, its proposal would transform this piece of civic infrastructure by expanding the scope to include a new park, commercial district, cultural buildings, and residences spread over two city blocks.

“We imagined the site as vertically layered — mixing places to live, to work, and to play, but most importantly, the public space has to take priority over all other uses,” says Roger Duffy, FAIA and partner at SOM. “These spaces cannot be publicly accessible, privately owned. This site would be the gateway to the city for generations to come.”

SOM’s proposal relocates Madison Square Garden to an adjacent plot of land, providing an opportunity to update Penn Station’s aesthetics and flow. A swooping glass dome over the main ticketing area would allow natural light to permeate the subterranean structure. A reconfigured layout would seamlessly connect the rich web of transportation infrastructure New Yorkers rely on — Regional Acela trains, tri-state commuter rails, and daily MTA riders would all get upgraded amenities, intuitive pathways to follow, and a direct connection to the airport. A tiered garden above the station helps the bustling exchange point become a destination in its own right.

SOM’s design isn’t meant to be a mere functional upgrade, but an icon worthy of the city’s global status, whether a visitor is coming from Hong Kong or commuting from Hoboken. “You reach ground and you emerge into a lush new park and you walk to the curb to catch a cab. As you take a left on one of the city’s great avenues, you glance back through the rear window, to see floating in the sky above you an entire city of spaces, all centered around the station,” says Duffy. “That is how entering New York City should feel.”

There will be a number of hurdles for this design to clear before the ceremonial first shovel of dirt is scooped. SOM’s proposal will be competing with similarly impressive designs from other star firms: Diller Scofidio + Renfro, H3 Hardy Collaboration Architecture, and SHoP Architects. Politics will introduce challenges — a plan to overhaul the two structures has been grinding its way through New York bureaucracy since the early 1990s. And there is the little matter of paying for what would be a multi-billion-dollar project that the owners of MSG call “Pie-in-the-sky.”

Undaunted by the challenges and costs, Duffy and his team see the project differently. “For us, this isn’t yet a question of cost,” he says. “It is a question of our intended values and our collective will.”

Photos Copyright: Skidmore, Owings & Merrill LLP

Eye-Poppingly Gorgeous Underground Stations from Around The World

Underground station in Rådhuset, Stockholm, Sweden

By Vincze Miklós from

Rådhuset, Stockholm, Sweden

Rådhuset (Court House) station was opened in 1975 as a part of the Stockholm rapid transit system, one of the best examples of organic architecture. 

The history of rapid-transit began 150 years ago, with the opening of the Metropolitan Railway in London in 1863. In the next century and a half, dozens of architects and engineers have worked on underground tunnels and stations. Some are abandoned now, but others are as good as new. Here are some of the most wonderful underground railway stations. (via Tobias Lindman/Flickr)

T-Centralen Station, Stockholm, Sweden

The only place where all three of Stockholm’s metro lines meet has this really wonderful one platform station, opened in 1975. 

(via Paolo Rosa/Flickr and Erzsébet)

Solna Station, Stockholm, Sweden (1975)

(via Wikimedia Commons/Wargklo)

Stadium Station, Stockholm, Sweden (1973)

(via Skye Christensen/Flickr and Wikimedia Commons/Allgau)

Westfriedhof Station, Munich, Germany

This station was opened in 1998, but the 11 large lamps (with red, blue, and yellow lights) were installed three years later.

(via Hannes Maurer 12)

Marienplatz Station, Munich, Germany

Marienplatz Station is one of the most frequently used stations in Munich, and was opened as part of the new S-Bahn network for the 1972 Summer Olympics.

(via Jaw3, Flickr/MrOmega and Wikimedia Commons/FloSch)

St.-Quirin-Platz Station, Munich, Germany (1997)

(via Wikimedia Commons/Florian Schütz, Wikimedia Commons/FloSch and Ian Fisher/Flickr)

[Full article with even more photos]’s Weekly Picks of Stunning Architecture: Aqua Tower, Chicago

Aqua Tower, Chicago

Aqua Tower, ChicagoReflective glass makes a beautiful facade, but it can be deadly for birds, which often can’t tell the glass from the sky or trees it reflects. Studio Gang Architects designed their Aqua Tower with that in mind: the undulating concrete terraces not only provide balcony space for residents, but help restrict the angle the reflections can be seen from. Railings and glass made with a small amount of ceramic in it help break the reflections up further, making the 859-foot tower, completed in 2010, exemplary for bird safety, according to both the American Bird Conservancy and PETA. But it’s not just about the birds. The swells and flares, based on striated limestone formations, also shade apartments from the sun and help protect against wind, all while maintaining a square footprint.

[Full article]