The Nano Revolution
A science that works on the molecular scale is set to transform the way
we build.

Source: ARCHITECT Magazine
Publication date: May 1, 2007

By George Elvin

The biggest changes to shake up architecture in a long time may have
their origins in the very, very small. Nanotechnology, the understanding
and control of matter at a scale of one- to onehundred-billionths of a
meter, is bringing incredible changes to the materials and processes of
building. How ready we are to embrace them could make a big difference
in the future of architectural practice.


In the future, the environment will interact with occupants in ways
hardly imaginable today, creating what a 2005 United Nations report
calls “an internet of things.” Tiny nanosensors embedded in building
materials will soon be able to track movement and detect temperature
changes, humidity, toxins, weapons—even money. Sensors will pick up on
users' preferences and attributes, which will then trigger responses in
the intelligent objects around them, dimming the lights, altering the
temperature, or—as is already happening with “push” technology that
marketers use to blitz cell phones—alerting them to nearby sales and events.

Soon, the design and construction of buildings will incorporate a rich
network of interacting, intelligent objects, from light-sensitive,
photochromic windows to user-aware appliances. Buildings will not be
static but will change constantly as their components continuously
interact with users and each other. These dynamic environments will be
almost organic in their ability to respond to changes, so architects
will need to learn to design for change.

No longer will we call the work of design done when construction is
complete. That will be only the beginning of the design process, thanks
to nanotechnology.

George Elvin is the director of the Green Technology Forum (greentech, a research and advising firm focusing on nanotechnology and
biotechnology for growing green businesses; he is also an associate
professor in the school of architecture at Ball State University. He can
be reached at [email protected]