Ar.S.M.Noman Tariq, Lecturer in Dept. of Architecture, AMU, Aligarh


Nanotechnology is about the manipulation of matter at the nanoscale. Few technologies have created so much hype and attracted so much funding globally as nanotechnology has over the last 5–10 years. There is a global race to take the lead in what many expect to be the next industrial revolution. Like ICT and biotechnology, nanotechnology is a general purpose technology that is expected to have pervasive effects on the economy. Just how strong the impact will be and where it will affect industry and society most, it is still very difficult to say. The visions and hype are considerable, but the technology is still at an early stage of development and commercialization has only just begun.

The construction sector was among the first to be identified as a promising application area for nanotechnology back in the beginning of the 1990s. But today we see that the construction industry is falling behind other sectors in applying nanotechnology.

What is nanotechnology and what could it mean for construction?

Nanotechnology is based on the exploitation of the new properties which are attained by structuring materials and surfaces in length scales of 1 to 100 nm. The lower boundary corresponds to the size of single molecules, which is the length scale used in chemistry, while the upper boundary corresponds to a level of detail just below what is visible with an optical microscope.

The Nano Revolution in Architectural World
The special thing about the nanoscale is, that it is typical for the "thickness" of the interface between two materials.

This means that the properties of materials structured at the Nanoscale are dominated by the interface properties rather than the classical chemical properties of matter.

In the field of construction materials, this is particularly interesting for concrete and composite materials. Here nanotechnology will play an important role in the development of the next generation of High-performance materials.

By optimizing the interface between fiber and Matrix, you can achieve mechanical properties comparable to steel; by adding nanoparticles to concrete, it is possible to achieve a much denser material, which is stronger and less susceptible to degradation than normal concrete.

The Rise of Nanotechnology

  • Nanotechnology has attracted a huge amount of interest around the globe over the last 10–20 years.
  • The clearest indicator that something special is going on in nanotechnology is investment: it is estimated that in 2004 around USD 9,000m were invested globally in nanotechnology.
  • R&D - a trend that seems to be on the increase. Over 30 countries have established nanotechnology R&D programmers' in recent years.
  • There is a global race to take the lead in what many expect to be the next industrial revolution, with the US currently in front, but with Asia also very much on the move Emerging strong nanotech countries are China, India and Russia.

Nanotechnology in Architectural World

The Nano Revolution in Architectural World
  • Nanotechnology is already employed in the manufacture of everyday items from sunscreen to clothing.
  • Its introduction to architecture is not far behind. On the near horizon, it may take building enclosure materials (coatings, panels and insulation) to dramatic new levels of performance in terms of energy, light, security and intelligence. These steps into the world of nanotechnology could dramatically alter the nature of building enclosure and the way our buildings relate to environment and user.
  • The development of carbon nanotubes and other breakthrough materials could radically alter building design and performance. The entire distinction between structure and skin, for example, could disappear as ultra light, super-strong materials functioning as both structural skeleton and enclosing skin are developed.

Tomorrow's Materials

The Nano Revolution in Architectural World
  • With the help of Carbon Nanotubes paper-thin sheets might hold up entire buildings, forcing us to rethink the relationship between structure and skin.
  • Carbon nanotubes, for example, have been created that are 250 times stronger than steel, 10 times lighter, and transparent. Similar advances are occurring in glass, plastics and concrete.
  • The students of College of Architecture and Planning at Ball State University proposed this nano studio design.
  • From smog-eating concrete and micro surveillance cameras to light-emitting windows and organic photovoltaics, the advances are coming fast.

nBots Create Nanorobotic Environments

  • The nBots being programmed to form artificial clouds in the city, to shelter it from the Sun and reduce the amount of energy, we consume in cooling ourselves and our built environment.

The Nano Revolution in Architectural World
Mood lighting for walls and ceilings

  • Imagine changing the color of walls and ceilings to fit the mood. That's what researchers at the University of Surrey hope to achieve with solid state lighting devices using nano-composite materials.

Self-Healing Composite Material

The Nano Revolution in Architectural World
  • Polymer scientists at Oak Ridge National Laboratory are working on a self-healing composite material, based on polymer mixtures in which one critical component moves quickly to the surface, through the material's bulk matrix.

Nanotechnology Applications

PV Roof Tiles

    • SRS Energy has created roof tiles that are coated with thin-film flexible photovoltaic cells.
The Nano Revolution in Architectural World
  • The tiles are a dark blue color to maximize the absorption of sunlight, and will be available from spring 2010.
  • The tiles are an example of how technology, in the form of new polymers and coatings, has the potential to increase the amount of energy that can be adapted from the sun.

The (Non) Living Wall (Paper)

The Nano Revolution in Architectural World
  • The Living Wall project, led by Leah Buechley at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology's Media Lab, offers an alternative by using magnetic and conductive paints to create circuitry in attractive designs.
  • When combined with low cost temperature, brightness and touch sensors, LEDs and Bluetooth, the wall becomes a control surface able to "talk" to nearby devices can touch a flower to turn on a lamp, for example.

A Road That Monitors Traffic

    • Researchers at the University of Minnesota have developed a self-sensing nanocomposite that can monitor traffic by using piezoresistive multi-walled carbon nanotubes as an admixture.
The Nano Revolution in Architectural World
  • The nanocomposite cement has great potential for traffic monitoring: in vehicle detection, in weigh-in-motion measurement, and in detecting vehicle speed.
  • An interesting aspect of this work is that the pavement itself would become the traffic detection, thus eliminating the need for separate traffic flow detection sensors.

City of Fairbanks Chooses Nansulate For Municipal Buildings

  • Industrial Nanotech Inc. has received an order from the City of Fairbanks to provide its Nansulate insulation and protection coatings for five city buildings, to increase energy efficiency and reduce fuel costs. The first building to be coated with Nansulate is the Fairbanks City Hall; that application is already underway.
  • The other buildings in the project include the Fire Department, Police Department, Department of Public Works and a fifth city building.
  • Nanotech Energy Solutions, Inc. estimates the amount of the product for the entire project to be approximately 12,000 gallons.

Nanotec and nanoZ offers protection for wood, glass, metal, concrete and textiles

The Nano Revolution in Architectural World
  • Nanotec is an Australian firm producing a range of nanocoatings for protecting wood, metal, concrete, glass and textiles.
  • nanoZ is a transparent industrial zinc oxide nanoparticle dispersion for functional coating formulations to protect wood, plastics and textiles from UV and microbial degradation.
  • nanoZ provides the industrial coatings market a solution to the problems with the long-term stability of the current transparent organic-based UV absorbers.

Cheaper Smart Windows Change Color

  • Scientists at the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) have created a new, cheaper method for making electro chromic windows.

Self-cleaning glass

    • Has a nanoparticles coating dirt can't stick to, eliminating the need for expensive and dangerous manual window washing on tall buildings.
The Nano Revolution in Architectural World
  • PPG industries and Pilkinson Glass both offer self-cleaning window glass that harness nanotechnology.
  • The Jubilee Church by Richard Meier uses self-cleaning concrete. Photo catalytic titanium dioxide nanoparticles in the precast panels make them shed dirt.

Nanocomposite steel

  • Is more corrosion resistant than conventional steel, and can reduce installation costs by up to 50%. And the quantity required to make a building may be up to 40% less than conventional steel.

Smog-eating concrete

  • Is produced by applying a nanolayer of titanium dioxide to concrete, which triggers a catalytic reaction that destroys many pollutants in contact with the surface.

Nanomaterial producers promise numerous benefits from nano-enhanced construction products, including

  • Low maintenance windows
  • Long lasting scratch resistant floors
  • Super strong structural components
  • Improved longer lasting house paint
  • Healthier and safer indoor climates
  • Self-cleaning skyscrapers
  • antimicrobial steel surfaces
  • Improved industrial building maintenance
  • Lower energy consuming buildings
  • Longer lasting roads and bridges

Desertec - a nanotechnology-enabled bold vision for an energy revolution

    • The vision that, if realized, would be a true energy revolution and the biggest solar energy project of all times.
The Nano Revolution in Architectural World
  • The project will cost 400-500 billion euros ($550-700 bn) and deliver its first energy in about 10 years.
  • The Desertec concept describes the perspective of a sustainable supply of electricity for Europe, the Middle East and North Africa up to the year 2050.
  • The basic idea is to install a huge network of Concentrating solar-thermal power plants in the Sahara Desert and build a network of High-Voltage Direct Current Transmission lines to carry the electricity to Europe.

Risks with Nanomaterials

Health and Societal Risks

  • Nanoparticles will be inhaled and absorbed by the skin. Sunscreens, countertops, handrails, door pulls and cabinets.
  • Nanoparticles may enter into the body through water when it is filtered through commercially available nanofilters.
  • A new study looks at the waste solids generated by the production of metallofullerenes and fullerenes and addresses the question whether feedstock-associated metals pose potential risks to aquatic receptors.
  • Two women in China are the first humans to be killed by nanotechnology who worked in a poorly ventilated factory spraying a polyacrylate paint that contained nanoparticles, reportedly inhaled the particles over a period of months.
  • Loss of privacy with intelligent nano building components. nanotech enabled windows will adjust their level of transparency resulting in loss of privacy.


There is increasing focus on science-based innovation in field of construction, there is increasing interest in the wider industrial uptake of nanotechnology, including specifically in construction, and there is a very strong interest in the potential energy and environmental gains that nano construction may offer.

Its introduction to architecture is not far behind. On the near horizon, it may take building enclosure materials (coatings, panels and insulation) to dramatic new levels of performance in terms of energy, light, security and intelligence. Nano-risk issues are given the serious concern they deserve.

As result, there is huge field of research in nanotechnology in the architectural applications, and it will be very supportive technology in economic, aesthetic and functional development of architecture.

References and sources:

  • NanoByg - a survey of nanoinnovation in Danish construction, Systems Analysis Department (
  • March 2009 IIA journal Article "nanotechnology and its impact on architecture" by Ar. Mohd. Firoz Anwar
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