Elizabeth Howell, July 23, 2019
Photo credit: Luther Caverly

The Power of Thinking Outside of Silos

Carleton’s Sheryl Boyle knows that sustainability requires interdisciplinary thinking.

She’s a professor in the School of Architecture and regularly collaborates with experts from other disciplines to create better buildings – biologists, mechanical engineers, civil engineers, artists and others.

A number of full-scale projects on campus have already been completed through interdisciplinary collaborations such as the research house at the corner of Bronson and Sunnyside Aves. The design, supported by the Canada Foundation for Innovation, was a collaboration with fellow Carleton mechanical engineering professors Ian Beausoleil-Morrison and Cynthia Cruickshank, as well as several graduate students from various disciplines.

“It’s great to bring together a group of students, all from different backgrounds, because they speak different languages,” Boyle said. And through collaboration, they can bring their expertise into a project and thus make it stronger, she added.

While the materials come locally, not all the ideas do. Boyle is working with an Australian company named ZEO, which has created an eco-friendly material derived from raw cellulose from recycled cardboard and industrial hemp. Through research support from Mitacs and industry collaborator Prosperium Global Solutions, as well as an interdisciplinary team from biology and engineering, Boyle is working to develop building materials using Zeoform including a structural insulated panel which combines insulation and finishes into a prefabricated building component such as a wall.

“It’s like 18th-century papier-mâché, but modified at the nanoscale and much, much stronger and more resilient,” Boyle says of the Zeoform material, meaning that the particles are so small they are difficult to pick out even with a typical microscope.

Another of Boyle’s collaborations is with the Canadian Precast Prestressed Concrete Institute, for work with Ultra-High Performance Concrete. Through a special 3D printer she has at her CSALT (Sensory Architecture and Liminal Technologies) lab and a grant from the association, Boyle will lead a student project that combines the clean world of the digital with the dirt of concrete to find new ways of fabricating lightweight concrete building components.

While thinking about aspects such as high-performance materials, Boyle explains, she looks at architectural problems like the issue of sourcing food sustainably. One of her working concepts is what she has coined as the “Hundred Mile House” which brings the idea of locally sourced ingredients into the building industry just as the hundred-mile diet encourages people to search out local food sources to reduce their carbon footprint. In the same way, Boyle argues, we can find building materials.

Like a cook that combines old materials with new processes and vice versa, Boyle continues to experiment with the recipes of construction, and in her world, “there are never too many cooks in the kitchen.”

Boyle’s funding includes support from a Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Development Grant, Mitacs (a non-profit national research organization) and industry partners.

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