In recent years, Snøhetta has conducted research on different materials that are central to building and production. The first project, Plast, investigated the inherent qualities of plastic, its characteristics, opportunities and challenges. Following this, Snøhetta has expanded its material research efforts into a new material: clay.
A key ambition is to trigger awareness of this ubiquitous material that surrounds us, and to explore, develop and employ new sustainable ways of building for the future.
The project has received support from the Design-Driven Innovation Program (DIP), led by Design and Architecture Norway (DOGA) in cooperation with the Research Council of Norway and Innovation Norway.
The Clay Challenge
The energy sector and building industry accounts for over 40 % of global industry’s heat-trapping emissions combined, according to the World Resources Institute. As the world’s population and the severity of the climate crisis continue to grow, we are challenged to think how to build responsibly – creating high quality spaces for people while also reducing our environmental footprint.
Large amounts of energy go into the production of the building materials we use. Materials are typically transported from afar, to be used in the construction of buildings that are erected in a battle against the natural conditions on the site instead of in an interaction with the natural conditions in the area. What if we could employ the resources on-site to construct buildings that have location-specific and environmentally superior qualities?
A Local Resource
Clay is a product found in large quantities around Norway and the rest of the world. When excavation for a site occurs, clay is dug up and treated as a waste product. At the same time, clay is an extremely versatile construction material, that has compelling structural, acoustic, thermal and aesthetic qualities.
In the first half of the 19th century, brick factories were located inside urban centers and supplied materials to an exploding construction industry. As the cities grew and the clay deposits got empty, brick factories were relocated out in the countryside, often with devastating effects on landscape and ecosystems. With the current population growth, responsible resource management is one of the biggest challenges of our time.
Our work and research aim to generate expanded knowledge on new ways of using materials like clay with zero emissions as a goal.
A Broader Perspective
Snøhetta aims to develop new ways to design, think and build with clay. This entails using and reusing local clay with less energy-intensive processing, employing circular design principles, and adopting more sustainable ways of consuming the material within cradle-to-cradle life cycles.
Although the material has been widely used since ancient times, there are still many unexplored possibilities related to it. For example:
Can we make clay products that does not need to be burned?
Is it possible to develop a mobile factory that can treat the soil under your feet, to build your house, to construct energy-positive workspaces, or even to clad a new opera house in China?
After a building's life is over, can it return to the ground where it first emerged without damage?