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Will We Glue Skyscrapers Together in the Future?

The materials and technology may be there, but it won’t be so easy for architects to fully replace nuts and bolts.

Ewais/Shutterstock.com

Could nuts and bolts become things of the past? In their place, a newly developed, high-tech glue could hold skyscrapers and bridges together.

It’s not such a far-fetched (or terrifying) idea, as architects including Greg Lynn told New Scientist last week. In fact, according to reporter Geoff Manaugh, glue may very well be the future of architecture. Not only would it be cheaper, as the technology uses a composite material that is lighter than steel and concrete, but it would also be more efficient, since fewer parts are needed and assembly is much simpler. As an added bonus, the glue would make structures stronger: “[Sticking] a small number of parts together along large surfaces areas beats bolting or nailing them together at specific, vulnerable points,” Manaugh writes.

High-tech glue is not a new idea; the aircraft industry has been using adhesives to build with for decades, and recently, companies like BMW and Audi have been experimenting with glue to make their automobiles lighter and tougher. So, as New Scientist asks, why not skyscrapers?

While science says it’s a sound idea, engineers will have to overcome a major barrier before the glue can be put to use: the United States’ strict building code. As Jay Love, a California-based engineer previously told CityLab, it’s incredibly tough to introduce new technology into building codes. “People are often content with using the tried and true, code-prescribed systems,” he said. It took his firm six years of testing before they could find a way to use goo to protect buildings from earthquakes—technology that’s been in use in earthquake-prone Japan for over 20 years.

“It's extremely true that we have technology that we probably could use, [but] because it hasn't been tested, we don't know if it really works,” says Bradley Gaskins, the chair of the American Institute of Architects Codes and Standards Committee.

Switching from trusty bolts and screws to glue will take a lot of testing. “The problem is that glue is not a mechanical fastener, [and it] can deteriorate over time,” he tells CityLab. “So that's the thing that we have to prove first through testing, research, and time.” Researchers would have to simulate all kinds of conditions and environments, and put the product through all sorts of stressors that are beyond what buildings generally have to endure. (Sure, glue has already been proven to work well in aircrafts, but Gaskin says buildings aren’t subjected to the kind of heavy maintenance airplanes are. “We don’t tear [buildings] apart to inspect them,” he notes.)

But Gaskin remains optimistic. The national building code gets revised every three years, and despite the challenges, he says there’s always new technology being introduced. How long it might take is hard to determine, though. “Technology is changing so rapidly today that it could be 10 years,” he says. “But then, we might hit a roadblock somewhere along the way and it might take longer than that.”

“But I think it will happen,” he continues. “We are a technologically driven society and we come up with better stuff all the time.”

h/t New Scientist

Top image: Ewais / Shutterstock.com

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