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
  • 062 grow buildings - artist's conception
    An artist's conception of possible underwater-grown structures.
    ILLUSTRATION: UNIVERSITY OF TEXAS SYMBIOTIC PROCESS LABORATORY
  • 062 grow buildings - mineral accretion process
    The stages of mineral accretion on an electrified mesh.
    UNIVERSITY OF TEXAS SYMBIOTIC PROCESS LABORATORY
  • 062 grow buildings - fish inspects screen
    The mesh's light electrical field tends to attract curious fish.
    UNIVERSITY OF TEXAS SYMBIOTIC PROCESS LABORATORY
  • 062 grow buildings - resting on a screen
    A diver rests on a mineral-encrusted wire screen.
    UNIVERSITY OF TEXAS SYMBIOTIC PROCESS LABORATORY
  • 062 grow buildings - wind generator
    Hilbertz used wind generators to provide electrical power.
    UNIVERSITY OF TEXAS SYMBIOTIC PROCESS LABORATORY
  • 062 grow buildings - underwater warehouses
    An artist's conception of underwater warehouses.
    UNIVERSITY OF TEXAS SYMBIOTIC PROCESS LABORATORY
  • 062 grow buildings - two panels
    LEFT: Artist's conception of the mineral accretion process used near shore to create beach houses. RIGHT: Hilbertz inspects an arch created underwater.
    UNIVERSITY OF TEXAS SYMBIOTIC PROCESS LABORATORY

  • 062 grow buildings - mesh examples3
  • 062 grow buildings - artist's conception
  • 062 grow buildings - mineral accretion process
  • 062 grow buildings - fish inspects screen
  • 062 grow buildings - resting on a screen
  • 062 grow buildings - wind generator
  • 062 grow buildings - underwater warehouses
  • 062 grow buildings - two panels

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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