Human bones make great architectural models, and they could also inspire the next renaissance in sustainable architecture.
If you’re designing a building, a lot depends on the materials you choose. Human bones are made from a composite, a fifty-fifty combination of calcium and collagen. Hydroxyapatite, the calcium compound, is incredibly strong but brittle—alone, it snaps as soon as it reaches its weight limit. Think of a bridge of diamond, another brittle material. “We would never build a bridge out of diamond, not because it’s expensive but because it’s so brittle,” says Ahmed Elbanna, a civil engineer at University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign. “It can carry a tremendous load, but if the load exceeds its strength, it will shatter without warning.” In your bones, the malleable collagen adds a flexible strength to the calcium, protecting your bones from shattering every time you do vigorous physical activity.