Maria Bacila

The Urine Brick

Building the future

What is the link between pissing and building?
The connection expands past port-a-loos. It's bricks. The answer is bricks.


Urine Brick RW 2 - Urine bricks created by students at the University of Cape Town Photograph: Robyn Walker/University of Cape Town

What do you imagine when you hear the phrase "urine brick"? Is it a solid yellow block of frozen liquid, like the ones in an igloo? Is it liquid? Sorry to disappoint, it's none of that.

University of Cape Town students have created a zero-waste building material made with human urine, which hardens at room temperature, as an alternative to environmentally taxing kiln-fired bricks.

The bricks are simultaneously grown and manufactured: Human urine, loose sand and live bacteria are mixed together and pressed into a mould. The process is very similar to how seashells are formed. A chemical reaction triggered by the urease breaks down the urea in urine while producing calcium carbonate - also known as limestone, the principal component of cement.

The longer the brick sets in its cast, the stronger the substance becomes. Potentially, this could also be adjusted as the process gets optimized, leading to custom-made building blocks.

Biomaterial research is one of the most obvious solutions to employ in the context of the anthropocene. This is way material exploration such as the urine brick are so important. Pay attention to our collective future.

The prospects looks sunny-yellow for both urine and the construction industry. Stay hydrated.