When I first sat down with Icelandic architect Arnhildur Pálmadóttir, I was a bit skeptical. Since 2018, her company SAP has been researching how to harness molten lava from Iceland’s countless volcanoes and use it as a natural building material.
The concept seemed wildly eccentric, but the more she talked, the more I realized something. If humans can drill for oil 20,000 feet under the ocean, why couldn’t we make the same effort to use another material that springs from the earth?
The architect’s exploration has now culminated in a project called Lavaforming, which was the subject of a recent exhibition in Reykjavík. The idea came about as a radical response to the climate crisis.
Currently, construction and building materials are responsible for 11% of annual global CO2 emissions. This has led to a growing movement among architects and developers to use materials that have a lower carbon footprint than concrete and steel and are sourced locally: think adobe for much of Africa, bamboo for China, and even agave waste for Mexico.
In Iceland, lava seemed such an obvious contender that Pálmadóttir was genuinely surprised that no one had thought of it before. “We don’t have a lot of natural resources, we have rock and lava fields,” she says.
Now the architect has come up with three ideas for how the lava could be used: digging trenches for lava to flow into when a volcano erupts, drilling into magma (before it erupts and turning into lava), and 3D printing bricks with it molten lava. The proposal focuses on Iceland, but could also apply to the 1,500 other active volcanoes scattered around the globe.
This is how it could work. The first scenario is based on a natural eruption that occurs in Iceland on average every five years. (The last one happened in March 2021, 25 miles southwest of the capital Reykjavík, but when National Geographic reported, it may have triggered volcanic eruptions more frequently for decades.)
So the next time a volcano erupts, slow-flowing lava would trickle into a network of pre-dug trenches. These could be used to redirect the lava and protect nearby critical infrastructure. The ditches could also be used to form the foundations for a new city as lava cools into solid rock. And if you excavated the earth around the ditches, now filled with solidified lava, those ditches could turn into walls.
In this scenario, architects would rely on predictive models that scientists are currently working on — like weather forecasts, but for volcanoes. These models were developed to predict where and when the next eruption will happen, and could be linked to a design model “so we can predict where to place the city,” says Arnar Skarphéðinsson, an architect at SAP (and Pálmadóttir’s son ).
If no volcanic eruptions are in sight, the architects want to continue the ongoing scientific research on geothermal energy. Iceland is divided by a rift that divides the country from east to west. Deep within this rift run pockets of fiery magma, transferring heat to Earth’s overlying rocky mantle: harnessed properly, this so-called geothermal heat could be used to generate massive amounts of electricity.
Such investigations are already being carried out near the Krafla volcano in northern Iceland. If the Architects could use similar equipment, they could drill down even further and encounter pockets of magma that they can extract. The material could then be molded into bricks or manipulated into a 3D printed material.
And yes, this could be the plot of a disaster movie, but as Pálmadóttir notes, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology is already printing with molten glass. Why couldn’t it work with molten lava?
With all their wild ideas, the architects remain reasonably realistic. “We think it’s a good idea, but we know it might not happen in our lifetime,” says Skarphéðinsson. For him, the radical nature of the project shows how devastating the building materials crisis has become and how desperately architects are looking for a more sustainable solution.
But there is something else. In 2012, Iceland held a constitutional referendum. One question was whether citizens want the island’s natural resources that are not already privately owned to be declared national property. The answer was yes, but Skarphéðinsson says “nothing has been done since then”.
“If we had this constitution and could build a lava city, the whole city would be public property, and we think that’s an important step in the climate crisis,” he says, because citizens would have more control over the country’s natural resources. that could help promote climate justice. “We don’t want Elon Musk owning the lava.”
https://www.fastcompany.com/90752124/lavaforming-one-architects-wild-idea-to-construct-buildings-from-molten-lava?partner=feedburner&utm_source=feedburner&utm_medium=feed&utm_campaign=feedburner+fastcompany&utm_content=feedburner This architect wants to turn molten lava from Iceland’s volcanoes into