In the building trade, for the majority of those involved, organic materials are still considered to be mere accessories, as products of secondary importance. However, they have proved to be omnipresent and therefore essential to the trade.
This vision also explains why these organic materials have only been of interest to those authors of science and technology in the application’s restricted framework, in the trade where each one of these materials is needed. Experience in the civil engineering domain has shown us that the “plastics”, sometimes called soft materials, have many characteristics in common.
All taken together, these characteristics may be interesting to compare, with the aim both to teach, and to stimulate research. Out of this aim, the 2003 work entitled Matériaux organiques pour le génie civil – Approche physico-chimique [MOU 03] was created and later translated into English as Organic Materials in Civil Engineering [MOU 06].
In this book we tried to define the field represented by these materials, which are characterized as:
– on the one hand, organic materials;
– on the other hand, construction materials.
In order to approach organic materials, we chose the physicochemical approach, meaning that we start by looking for what (in their molecular structure) characterizes these materials, and what exactly characterizes them as being part of the same category, regardless of their use.
The intrinsic properties of these materials, namely their mechanical behavior, clearly depend on this structural data. Conversely, we were able to find all kinds of coherences between products with completely different uses, and we were then able to justify the tranversality hypothesis which guides our work.
Here, we should be precise. Although they are largely in the majority, the compounds which chemists call polymers – which will be greatly discussed in this book – are not the only existing organic materials, particularly in construction.
This is why bitumen1 used for road engineering and sealing various types of constructions, has an “organic” structure but cannot be qualified as polymers. In the same way, lumber is not strictly a polymer. Therefore our subject exceeds the strict framework of polymer applications in construction.
The world of construction materials is so vast that we chose to limit ourselves to the civil engineering field, where we felt more at ease, taking into account our own professional experience. Works were carried out to the field of building construction, but primarily for extrapolation reasons.
This initial work could not be left in this condition. The interest it generated made us take up its cause again, and develop it on two points.
Hence, today we can say that organic construction materials are at the very heart of the awakening to the concept of sustainable development. Such an assertion already passed for a pure provocation, five or ten years ago. Now it is becoming relevant, and today we turn our attention specifically to those who might have felt prompted yesterday.
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