It sounds like something out of a Dario Argento film: soaring architecture built with fresh blood and sand. It’s no camp horror movie, though—rather, it’s an award-winning proposal from recent architecture school graduate Jack Munro.
"Animal blood is one of the most prolific waste materials in the world," says Munro, a 2012 graduate of University of Westminster in London. "The blood drained from animal carcasses is generally thrown away or incinerated despite being a potentially useful product."
In his final semester, Munro carried out an exhaustive study testing his hypothesis—that animal blood could be used in construction in underdeveloped areas where traditional building materials are scarce.
A single cow can produce about eight gallons of blood after it’s been slaughtered. Munro collected blood from four cows for his early tests, adding an antibacterial agent to stave off fungal growth and mixing it with sand. Then, he poured the mixture into a simple formwork and baked it at a fairly low temperature—only 160 degrees. He found that after only an hour of baking, the blood proteins coagulate to form a strong insoluble mass, bonding with the sand. He experimented with making glue first, then moved on to bricks. Compression testing suggests that he hasn’t hit on a concoction that produces a super strong brick, but they are waterproof, a major strength in areas where erosion is an issue.
Munro imagines the bricks in use in arid climates, like the Middle East, where mud bricks are typically used. For his thesis, he presented a design for a brick-making community in Siwa, Egypt, that "seeks to re-establish the autonomy of desert by using the waste blood from halal animal slaughter to create building materials." Siwa’s agriculture industry has been decimated by changes in the Saharan desert, encroaching upon arable land. Brick-making could offer an alternative income to residents.
Munro’s building contains all parts of the production process: cattle sheds, slaughterhouse, and brick manufacturing facilities. "The building itself is formed by casting animal-blood-based adhesive over a sand dune and allowing the dune to migrate," he explains, "revealing an interior space that can be excavated and occupied."
"I believe there is certainly a potential for the real-world application of the techniques developed in the project," Munro tells Co.Design over email. Right now, he’s looking to raise funds for a prototype single-story home built with his bricks in Siwa.
It all adds up to a strong and convincing concept. A weak point, of course, is how occupants will react to the taboo of living in houses built with blood. Then again, most of the general population is a-OK with the multitude of animal by-products used in everyday products. And at least in Munro’s case, he’s actually upcycling a product that would otherwise go to waste.