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Wikimedia Commons/Thinkstock/Bryan Dugan
Wikimedia Commons/Thinkstock/Bryan Dugan

How Olive Oil Might Save Our Oldest Buildings

Wikimedia Commons/Thinkstock/Bryan Dugan
Wikimedia Commons/Thinkstock/Bryan Dugan

When the builders of York Minster—a huge gothic cathedral in a northern U.K. city—set to work, they weren’t thinking about the road traffic that would pass feet from its front door, spilling exhaust fumes onto its magnesian limestone walls. After all, when work began in 1230, even a horse-drawn cart was a luxury few knew.

And they weren’t thinking about the slowly corrosive rain caused by the Industrial Revolution of the 18th century, either. Water, and the acidity in rain (about half of each month the city sees more than 0.1 millimeters of rainfall) can wear on even the best-built buildings. Those charged with building preservation try to keep moisture out of old buildings while allowing them to air from the inside to prevent decay. That’s easier said than done.

Conservationists need to ensure they don’t compromise the building’s look or structure; to do either would be to defeat the point of preservation in the first place. It’s easy enough to drape a waterproof tarpaulin over our oldest buildings, but that hides them from view. Something that keeps the building looking as it did when first built is the end goal of those involved in the preservation of historical sites, and those involved in York Minster’s upkeep have hit upon a novel solution. It’s likely to be found in your kitchen cupboard.

Virgin or extra virgin?

Olive oil drove the Greek and Roman empires. The remnants of ancient amphorae that once held the stuff have surfaced in all four corners of the world, showing the vibrant trade that existed thousands of years ago. Throughout history it’s been a medicine, a sacred liquid and a cooking ingredient—and we produce 3.4 million tonnes (3.75 million tons) of it every year.

Its chemical construction is what makes olive oil so useful for those trying to save buildings from disrepair. The liquid we use to cook with contains between 55 and 83 percent oleic acid, a key ingredient that has the unique quality of being able to let water out from the limestone it covers, while preventing water coming in with a coating a single molecule thick.

Oleic acid is a long chain fatty acid, with a great number of hydrocarbons all lined up in a row—the perfect hydrophobic (water-repellent) chemical construction.

The natural solution

Other solutions had been tried before: The Minster had been coated in other laboratory-made hydrophobic solutions, which stopped the water coming into the stone, but weren’t porous enough to let any pollutants already embedded in the walls come out. Before that, those charged with keeping the Minster healthy had tried linseed oil, though they stopped when they realised they were staining the bright white frontage.

For all it discolored the Minster, linseed oil did work. Which is why Dr. Karen Wilson, a reader in physical chemistry at the University of Cardiff, began experimenting with olive oil-based solutions to the problem of natural decay. By combining oleic acid with a Teflon-like compound called 1H,1H, 2H,2H-perfluoro-decyltrimethoxysilane, Wilson and her team think they’ve managed to find the perfect preservation tool: something that makes the Minster watertight while ensuring its architectural beauty isn’t compromised.

And it’s all because of olive oil.

Wilson’s excited about the solution’s potential. “Such coatings could have a significant impact on stone conservation,” she writes in her academic paper (check it out here), “affording readily applied, conformal barriers able to protect historic limestone from weathering by gas phase and particulate sulfur oxide pollutants.”

The people who built York Minster likely thought their handiwork would be protected by God and stand forevermore. Simple science—and the relentless march of technology—caused it to begin tarnishing. Now the advancement of scientific research might be able to stay the decline in our greatest buildings, using one of the world’s oldest commodities (and cooking ingredients).

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Luke Hayes, Asif Khan/Getty Images
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architecture
Vantablack Pavilion at the Winter Olympics Mimics the Darkness of Space
Luke Hayes, Asif Khan/Getty Images
Luke Hayes, Asif Khan/Getty Images

British company Surrey NanoSystems disrupted the color spectrum when it debuted Vantablack: the darkest artificial substance ever made. The material is dark enough to absorb virtually all light waves, making 3D objects look like endless black voids. It was originally designed for technology, but artists and designers have embraced the unique shade. Now, Dezeen reports that British architect Asif Khan has brought Vantablack to the Winter Olympics.

His temporary pavilion at the Pyeongchang Winter Olympic Games in South Korea has been dubbed the darkest building on Earth. The 33-foot-tall structure has been coated with Vantablack VBx2, a version of Vantablack pigment that comes in a spray can.

The building’s sides curve inward like shadowboxes. To break up the all-consuming blackness, Khan outfitted the walls with rods. White lights at the ends of the sticks create the effect of stars scattered across an endless night sky.

Child next to wall painted to look like the night sky.
Luke Hayes, Asif Khan/Getty Images

Khan told Dezeen that the piece is meant to give “the impression of a window cut into space.” He was only able to realize this vision after contacting the scientists behind Vantablack. He told them he wanted to use the color to coat a building, something the pigment wasn’t designed for originally. Sculptor Anish Kapoor securing exclusive rights to artistic use of the color in 2016 further complicated his plans. The solution was the sprayable version: Vantablack VBx2 is structurally (and therefore legally) different from the original pigment and better suited for large-scale projects.

The pavilion was commissioned by Hyundai to promote their hydrogen fuel cell technology. The space-themed exterior is a nod to the hydrogen in stars. Inside, a white room filled with sprinklers is meant to represent the hydrogen found in water.

The area will be open to visitors during the Winter Olympics, which kick off in Pyeongchang, South Korea on Friday, February 9.

[h/t Dezeen]

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Shari Austrian
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Design
You Can Order a Stunningly Detailed LEGO Replica of Your House on Etsy
Shari Austrian
Shari Austrian

LEGO blocks can be used to construct fictional starships and works of abstract art, but there's something comforting in replicating what's familiar to you. That's the concept behind Little Brick Lane, an Etsy shop that promises to custom-build detailed LEGO models of real homes.

Designer Shari Austrian tells Apartment Therapy that the idea came to her when her family was building their real-life house. Her twin boys had recently gotten her interested in LEGO, so she decided to construct a scaled-down, blocky replica to match their new home. She enjoyed the project enough to launch a business around LEGO architecture on Etsy at the end of 2017.

Austrian bases her designs off interior and exterior photos of each house, and if they're available, architectural plans. Over eight to 10 weeks, she constructs the model using LEGO pieces she orders to match the building design perfectly, recreating both the inside and outside of the house in the utmost detail.

To request a custom LEGO abode of your own, you can reach out to Austrian through her Etsy shop, but warning: It won't come cheap. A full model will cost you at least $2500 (the exact price is based on the square footage of your home). That price covers the cost of the materials Austrian invests in each house, which can add up quick. "The average LEGO piece costs approximately 10 cents," she tells Mental Floss, and her models are made up of tens of thousands of pieces. But if you're looking for something slightly cheaper, she also offers exterior-only models for $1500 and up.

For your money, you can be confident that Austrian won't skimp on any details. As you can see in the images below, every feature of your house—from the appliances in your kitchen to the flowers in your yard—will be immortalized in carefully chosen plastic bricks.

A bedroom made of LEGO

A kitchen model made of LEGO

The exterior of a house made of LEGO

[h/t Apartment Therapy]

All images courtesy of Shari Austrian.

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