Grow Buildings: Underwater Building Through Mineral Accretion

In the 1970s, architect Wolf Hilbertz began experimenting with mineral accretion as a method of underwater building.


| March/April 1980



062 grow buildings - mesh examples3

LEFT: A wire mesh with attached electrodes. RIGHT: A mesh array, the cathode of the reactor, all set for submersion in the ocean.


UNIVERSITY OF TEXAS SYMBIOTIC PROCESS LABORATORY

Do you need a large container, a building, a boat, a breakweater, or even an entire island of your own? Well, if you happen to live near salt water, you just might be in luck, because you may soon be able to grow such structures!

Not only that . . . but the "homegrown" constructions will be strong and durable, and—should they ever fracture—the same process that built them will enable them to heal themselves.

Furthermore, the concept behind this breakthrough is so basic, so sensible, and so absurdly simple that you'll wonder why no one ever thought of it before, and—more puzzling still—why so many people who have learned this method of growing buildings don't rush out to try it.

An Unappreciated Gift

Partly to blame for the lack of public acceptance, perhaps, is Wolf Hilbertz— the originator of the concept—who detailed his basic theory in a technical journal in 1975. The professor hoped in that way to assure that the process could not be patented and commercially exploited by anyone else ... since he felt the idea should belong to the whole world.

Hilbertz studied architecture in Berlin, finished his training at the University of Michigan, and now teaches the subject at the University of Texas in Austin. It was in the early 1970's that the professor turned his attention to the study of plans that were—at that time—being proposed for underwater buildings.

"They were preposterous," he recalls, "because each and every one of the designs involved conventional, land-based techniques and materials . . . but when you're dealing with a new environment, you have to consider new ideas."





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