The Various Structural Implications of Chemical Structures on Architecture

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What are the various structural implications of Chemical Structures on Architecture?


The structure of the DNA, the double Helix, the Carbon 60 molecule, Buckminsterfullerene, the tetrahedral structure of Methane – these chemical structures have been the genesis of various architectural inventions. The study of these ‘Quantum Structures’ can lead to understanding the basic structural framework and bonding criterion.

Atomic Structures range from linear to trigonal to tetrahedral. Taking an Architectural perspective on these structures and the Theories they are governed will result in understanding the relationship between Chemistry, Physics and Architecture.

Chemical structures both in terms of chemical properties and physical structural rigidity have various uses in Architecture. Structures such as Honeycomb are known for their lightness and high strength to weight to ratio. They are found as nano-structures in diamond, graphite and other carbon compounds and are used extensively in high rigidity lightweight applications. In terms of building material, chemistry has been the basis of the architectural evolution- from the use of bricks to modern materials such as ETFE fibres.

Having established the structure and material between chemistry and architecture, there is a concern for it being economical and sustainable. This brings in the study of various alternative materials and structures.

The focus here are the various chemical structures that are being used and can be used as structural systems in a larger scale; the various materials that are used and under development that are/can be used in these structural systems; applying the future perspective on economy and sustainability in terms of material alternatives to concerned structural systems; all of these under the roof of Chemistry.

What are the analogies?

There are various chemical reactions which give rise to innumerable structures of bonding and equally innumerable compounds. Molecules form microscopic spaceframes giving them specific properties including physical qualities. Spaceframes are widely used in architecture.

“The ultimate limit in one approach to the design of very light and very strong structures is to combine (1) the concept of a space frame (common in architecture) with (2) fractal repetition of a shape on smaller and smaller scales, (3) the inherent crystallographic nature of repeating structures, and (4) the limits of our manufacturing capabilities imposed by the atoms from which we build products.

The result is a class of very light, very strong structures composed of struts and nodes which are self-similar at multiple scales, are particularly easy to describe when a material is described in terms of a unit cell which is repeated to fill three dimensional space, and have a simple molecular structure.” (Ralph C. Merkle, “Molecular Space Frames: An Atomically Precise Aerogel,” IMM Report #44, 22 January 2014, Page 3)

Molecular structures provide possibilities to which various kinds of spaceframes and structures can be developed. Utilising ‘units’ from molecular compounds certain modular structures can be formed. For example, a tetrahedron.

C:\Users\HP\Desktop\Buckyball.jpg Hexagons and pentagons are ‘units’ formed by Carbon as Cyclohexane and Cyclopentane. They give rise to a larger Carbon molecule or C 60, better known as Buckminsterfullerene. This structure is widely used as a large span structure.

Buckminsterfullerene (Source:

“Cellular structures are made up of solid struts and foams that are interconnected. This network constructs the faces and edges of individual cells. The simplest type of cellular structures are Honeycombs which are a two dimensional array of polygons packed together to fill a plane area that looks like the hexagonal cells of a bee.

An example of these structures is sandwich panels which in today’s world, are made up using glass or carbon-fibre composite skins that are separated by aluminium or paper-resin honeycombs, providing the panels with extremely large specific bending stiffness and strength. Other applications include space vehicles, racing yachts, and portable buildings.

The applications of polymeric and glass foams are mainly as thermal insulators. Products as small disposable coffee cups, and as elaborate as the insulators of booster rockets of space shuttles. Modern buildings, refrigerated trucks, railway cars, and even ships all benefit from the low thermal conductivity of cellular structures. In buildings for example when fire hazards are taken into consideration, glass foams can be used instead.

An advantage that cellular structures have for extremely low temperature research is their ability to reduce the amount of refrigerant needed to cool the insulation itself. This is due to their low density. Similarly, this applies at high temperatures in the design of kilt and furnaces for example, because the lower the mass, the larger the efficiency. The thermal mass of cellular structures is proportional to its relative density.” (Alqassim, Ghanim, "Mechanical properties of hierarchical honeycomb structures" (2011). Mechanical Engineering Master's Theses. Paper 42, Page 11)

C:\Users\HP\Desktop\F1.large.jpg Honeycomb structures are ideally suited for design and architectural applications for their optimal ratio of weight to load-bearing capacity and bending strength. Also, the structure has aesthetic appeal, this versatile ‘unit’ can be tailor-made for a variety of design purposes.

Honeycomb (Source: )

What are the Chemical Structures? What are the bases of their implications?

Chemical reactions are governed by laws and follow a pattern for growth. These processes give rise to the formation of structures. Depending on the elements and the environment, the structures acquire various characteristic properties. These characteristic properties can be the basis to determine the structural as well as chemical applications in various aspects.

Structures are subject to Growth.

“The problem of growth, reduced to its simplest terms, is the problem of the conditions under which structure of a definite and specific kind is built up by the growing system through the chemical and physical transformation of material taken from the surroundings. As thus expressed, our definition applies to inorganic as well as to organic growth, e. g., to the formation of a crystal from its "mother-liquid," or of a metallic deposit at a cathode. Both of these processes, especially the latter, exhibit many significant analogies to organic growth-processes; thus a crystalline or electrolytic deposit of a given chemical composition, laid down under constant external conditions, has, like an organic growth, its own definite and specific structural peculiarities. In organic growth and development, however, numerous complexities enter which are absent from inorganic growth; in particular the continual chemical and physical activity of the living system is always present as a dominating factor; this activity is itself specific and modifies in a specific manner the structure-forming processes, and is itself modified by them. Since every living organism is by its very nature an active system of this kind, the problem of organic growth becomes one relating not merely to the origination of specific structure but of specific physiological processes and activities as well, some of which are demonstrably dependent upon the observed structure, while others are related to it in a manner which cannot be precisely defined at present. Evidently structure, as such, in the sense of fixed disposition of material parts, represents only one side of the vital organization; its other and more characteristic side is manifested in the various special organic processes and the external behaviour of the organism; these in turn imply the regulated concurrence, interaction and sequence of numerous simpler processes and events of a purely physico-chemical nature.” - (Ralph Lillie and Earl Johnston, Precipitation-Structures Simulating Organic Growth. II. A Contribution to the Physico-Chemical Analysis of Growth and Heredity, Biological Bulletin, Vol. 36, No. 4 (Apr., 1919), Page 225)

C:\Users\HP\Desktop\Diamond.jpg All Chemical structures have unique properties. A Diamond, for instance, is physically the hardest substance found on earth. Its structure consists of Carbon atoms packed in such an optimal arrangement nature could find that makes it the hardest albeit not having a heavy mass.

Structure of Diamond (Source: )

The structural arrangement of diamond can have its implications on architecture.

Moreover, the implications can also work the other way round. The Buckminsterfullene, commonly known as the Buckyball, has been the research subject as a structural form since the 1960s.

“The consideration of analogies between geodesic domes and fullerenes is fruitful in both directions. At the very beginning of fullerene research, geodesic dome concepts helped chemists to recognize the structure of these hollow carbon clusters. In the reverse direction, fullerene studies can indirectly help in the geodesic dome design. The intensive research on fullerenes is providing many suggestions for new structural forms composed of hexagons and pentagons, which may be considered as basic configurations for analysing the fundamental problem of minimum covering of a sphere by circles and also as new configurations for geodesic domes. In this way new geometrical results are also to be expected in the future as a consequence of the detailed studies which are now being carried out on the fullerenes.” -(Tarnai, Iijima, Hare and Fowler, Philosophical Transactions: Physical Sciences and Engineering, Vol. 343, No. 1667, A Post buckminsterfullerene View of the Chemistry, Physics and Astrophysics of Carbon (Apr.15, 1993), pp. 145-154)

This can be helpful for both the fields, Chemistry and Architecture, to work in tandem in terms of structural research and development.

Why is the study and development of materials important to structural implications?

Chemistry is widely involved in Architecture in terms of material development. Molecular structures are ‘nano-femto’ scale. They are physically weightless. Scaling it up to large sizes according to requirements presents new factors to the mere structure. Weight of the structure comes into play. To replicate the optimum rigidity and mechanical property of the structure, the structural system has to be made of the optimal materials. Again, its chemistry at play from another angle, materials.

“Material innovations are as much as part of the current debate about architecture as they were in any period in history. In western architecture and design over the last one hundred and fifty years the discovery of new materials such as titanium, synthetic polymers, artificial ceramics or, new applications for existing materials such as steel, concrete, glass and paper have served to transform ideas of materiality from monolithic to even more ethereal and ephemeral constructions.” (Beukers & Hinte, 2001, p.13; Manzini, 1989, Page 107)

Lightweight but strong materials are ideal for spaceframes, honeycomb or fabric structure. Use of aluminium instead of steel, composite materials such as Carbon Fibre is one of the most recent developments in the field. The development of composites has come about following the realization that by binding synthetic fibres together with various resins, very light, strong and durable materials could be made. Carbon fibre was originally developed for space technology, but has now been adopted in many other areas of manufacture including structural components. Structurally, carbon fibre is hexagonal units arranged in tubular strands. It is three times stronger than steel but also seven times lighter.

Are these structural systems sustainable as expected in every other construction system and material?

“Natural materials, recycled industrial materials, and product concepts that are sparing with resources are all gaining ground. The world is seemingly undergoing radical change; or so the ever more frequent environmental problems and the bio-based solutions with a low environmental impact that companies are now touting would lead us to believe. Materials are to be more natural, healthier and more sustainable. Nothing less is at stake than saving our climate, securing our standard of living and creating a basis for life for the next generations.”(Sascha Peters, Material Revolution, Page 6, 2011)


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