IAAC students create hydroceramic: a passive cooling system for buildings
all images courtesy of digital matter intelligent constructions studio
the increasing development and application of ‘smart’ materials in various industries has opened up new design possibilities at the material and behavioral scale of architecture. the DMIC at the institute of advanced architecture of catalonia aimed to redefine and embed ‘intelligence’ into the built environment by the use of responsive materials, designing and implementing systems to aid the building performance by digital simulations and fabrication.
the architectural atmosphere then becomes a living thing as part of nature and not outside of it. its components start working as organisms with biological systems that are live operations between the structure its surroundings. this project speculates the thermodynamic processes in a building, and how these can be tackled passively with a class of materials called ‘hydrogel’. the term refers to a class of substances that absorb and retain 500 times their weight in water.
growth of the spherical hydrogel according to the water absorption
chemically, they can be insoluble polymers of hydroxyethyl acrylate, acrylamide, polyethylene oxide, and others. as a cooling aid, they work by exposing the ingested water to a large surface area. since the heat of vaporization of water is approximately 0.6 kilocalories per gram, a decrease in temperature occurs. taking this phenomenon as a hypothesis, the studio has been prototyping a custom building element by the hygothermal (humidity and temperature) analysis of architectures to meet the habitable conditions required for the comfort zone in a particular context.
diagram of the hydrogel under the effects of evaporation
the final version, ‘hydroceramic’, works as an evaporative cooling device which reduces warmth and increases the humidity, thus lowering the air of the indoor environment by five to six degrees. its embedded intelligence makes its performance directly proportional to the heat in the outdoor wind. in other words, when it is hotter outside, the interior responds by naturally decreasing its temperature. meanwhile, when evaporation isn’t occurring, the system doesn’t cool the enclosed space.
Hydroceramic can be customized in different shapes and variations of hydrogel containers.
these results were determined by an experiment set up to test the effect of hydrogel and to establish what the best material is to house the substance. clay, aluminum, and acrylic were tested against a controlled variable, which helped determine that the porous nature of clay makes it the most efficient tool. the students believe that the project can help save up to 28% of overall electricity consumption caused by the traditional air-conditioning and can be used as an low-cost alternative building technology as both clay and hydrogel are inexpensive.
testing the materials
(left) final system consisting of the clay layers with hydrogel and stretching fabric in between
(right) fabrication method using CNC milling for the moulds
sample with the curvature
final test of humidity and temperature in the artificially created environment
the best result came from the composite clay