As a friend of mine pointed out recently, buildings really used to be built to last; there are churches in Europe that have been around for thousands of years. But that's often because the only materials available were ones that were just naturally durable, like stone. Materials like wood, drywall, fabric and plastic are less expensive, lightweight and easier to work with. But one of the downsides is that very few parts of a modern home are built to last more than 50 years. The old materials end up in a landfill and then energy is spent to make and install new stuff.
Here's where the green movement comes in again. Not only do we want houses that are built to last, but we also want ones that are constructed of materials that aren't as taxing on the environment to make. And we want them to be relatively inexpensive. Wood's renewable, but issues like global warming and mass deforestation have some people looking for alternatives.
There are some pretty wild concepts in the works, but a new one that seems likely to become a reality is concrete. Concrete itself has been around for a long time, but in the past decade or so, there have been some huge advances in what's called high-performance concrete. It's much stronger than the traditional stuff, it's an incredible insulator, it can come in lots of different colors and it can be poured in just about any shape that you want. Companies that manufacture this material continue to reduce the environmental impact of the process. High-performance concrete lasts a long time and doesn't need to be painted or maintained. It's expensive now, but again, the cost will come down over time.
A concrete home isn't as fun to contemplate, though, as one made out of fungus. Members of the nonprofit design group called Terreform ONE come up with creative green building ideas. Mycoform, for example, is a building block made from a fungus that has been grown in molds, feeding off agricultural byproducts like hay. A much more palatable concept, called the Fab Tree Hab, includes growing houses by grafting trees and other plants onto a frame. Indoor, organic structures called living walls are already in use and are sort of a step above your average houseplant. Not only are they pretty, they also filter the air.
Don't want to live in a fungus or tree house? Expect to see more recycled metals and other materials in use both outside and within the walls of homes in the future.