Can a building make your cell phone work better? Huh? Well, have you ever been in a building where your cell phone didn’t work? If you’ve ever experienced this, you know that it’s pretty annoying. This happens because your cell phone is basically a radio and a building’s steel frame interferes with the radio signals. The question this raises is, why does the building’s frame have to be steel? Just because steel is used in the frames of many buildings doesn’t mean there might not be another material that works better.
A material that seems to find a new use every day is “carbon fiber.” We see it used in everything from helicopter rotors to canoe paddles. What we commonly call carbon fiber is actually “carbon fiber reinforced polymer” or simply “CFRP.” It is a composite material made by molding carbon fibers in a polymer resin. The fibers provide the strength and the resin holds the fibers together. It is light, strong, and rigid. It can be formed into virtually any shape imaginable: sheets, tubes, C-channels, I-beams, and even trusses. Why not use it for the frames of buildings?
Because CFRP is strong and rigid, it seems very well suited for use in the structural components of a building. But CFRP’s advantages don’t stop there. Production of CFRP is not energy-intensive like steel production. Since it is much lighter than steel, it would be cheaper to transport, and it is likely that less powerful equipment and fewer construction workers would be needed to assemble the building’s frame. CFRP is not a metal, so it will not rust or corrode.
CFRP has many advantages and we should be receptive to its use in architecture. Since CFRP is already a well-developed technology, incorporating into building designs should be quite straightforward and low-risk.