The hemp plant is a truly remarkable natural phenomenon – it’s a shame that for most people it is synonymous with the illegal drugs trade and is, after alcohol, probably the most popular way of getting completely off your face.
The plant, which these days can be grown commercially in the UK (once you have obtained your Home Office licence) has many wonderful properties: strong and fibrous; resistant to decay – it can even be processed to produce a natural polymer, a biodegradable alternative to some plastics. In this issue of the magazine, we take a look at hemp as a potential new source of building materials.
We’re also taking a look at other ‘alternative’ building materials, most notably the K-Briq. Developed by scientists at Heriot-Watt University, this waste-derived, clay-and-cement-free alternative to the common house-brick is now in commercial production.
It’s all cutting-edge stuff and only time will tell whether these unconventional products are simply green gimmicks or viable contributions to a low-carbon construction industry.
But while we ponder the possible shape of things to come, we can also take a look back in time thanks to a project being undertaken by Historic England and the John Laing Foundation. Up to 10,000 photographs from the John Laing archive will soon be available to view online. You can see some of them on page 53 of this issue.