Taking better care of the environment is such an important new year resolution
If current trends continue, our oceans could contain more plastic than fish by 2050. (unenvironment)

PLASTIC IN ARCHITECTURE- sheet1This is a very common scene on the beaches of Mumbai. The problem is that about 8 million metric tons of plastic are estimated to enter the ocean each year. It is thrown away, washed away, blown away, and generally forgotten as it disappears into the ocean. It is illegal to dump non-biodegradable materials at sea and modern ships follow these international guidelines. The primary source of plastic in the ocean is not dumping at sea but plastic escaping from the land via the rivers.

PLASTIC IN ARCHITECTURE- sheet2For plastic, there is no corrosion, dissolving, or biodegrading. Most plastic items never fully disappear; they just get smaller and smaller. These are called microplastic, they can be as small as a grain of salt. Microplastics have entered into our food and also in a majority of the world’s tap water.

But the world is waking up to the problem, and governments are starting to act. In the last decade, dozens of national and local governments around the world have adopted policies to reduce the use of disposable plastic.

Sustainability is not only a result of policies and bans but it should begin at the planning stage. Today, petrochemical plastics are omnipresent in buildings. The construction sector, the second-largest consumer of plastics behind the packaging, accounts for 16 per cent of plastic’s total global consumption. Thermal insulation, carpet, piping, and window and door frames are now commonly made of plastic. But despite its functionality, versatility, and low cost, plastic plays an alarming role in exacerbating climate change and global pollution. Given these truths, architects should be compelled to rethink their use of the material.

Another strategy is to look for recycled plastic materials as surrogates for other traditional materials. Making roof tiles from recycled polymers, for instance, is a growing industry. Russia-based Altay Polimer-Krovlya, for one, combines melted waste plastic and sand to form resilient modular tiles designed to overlap like their ceramic counterparts. Similarly, manufacturers of products such as decking, siding, fences, and concrete additives have begun to embrace recycled polymers as key components.

If all architects adhered strictly to the above approaches when specifying materials, there would be a significant reduction in the demand for new petrochemicals. However, the ultimate objective should be to avoid using petro-plastics entirely—instead opting for bio-based polymers and other materials. Unfortunately, many biopolymers have their own challenges, such as their reliance on petrochemical-derived fertilizers and fuels.

These problems can be overcome, however, with an industry-wide transformation. Given the devastating effects that the current trend of accelerating petrochemical demand will have by 2050, we will have no other choice. Mentioned below are some examples of reusing plastic in an unconventional way.

1. Plasphalt

Normally, roads are comprised of about 90 per cent rocks, limestone and sand, with roughly 10% bitumen used to bind it. Bitumen is extracted from crude oil. The plastic pellets replace a significant part of the bitumen and can be made from household waste, and commercial waste.

Plasphalt is made up of grains of plastic produced from unsorted plastic waste, which replaces the sand and gravel traditionally used in asphalt production. In testing, it was found that plasphalt roads were far less vulnerable to wear and tear than traditional asphalt because the asphalt emulsion bonded better with the plastic than with gravel or sand.

2. Recy blocks

These colourful bricks are made from old plastic bags, which are notoriously difficult to recycle in any other way. Recycled bags or plastic packaging are placed in a heat mould and forced together to form the blocks. They’re too lightweight to act as load-bearing walls, but can be used to divide up rooms or outdoor areas.

3. Plastic bricks by plastic concepts

The innovative local company managed to patent its system of bricks and pillars made of recycled plastic, which is then put together like Lego pieces in a construction system that lets you build houses up to two stories high in five days. The base material they work with is obtained from popular recyclers and factories that discard tons of plastic daily. Using an extrusion process, the plastic is melted and emptied into a final mould, creating a three-kilo brick (6.6 lbs), similar to clay ones with the same dimensions. When assembled under pressure, the bricks insulate the heat and have additives that retard combustion. Additionally, they are thermoacoustic and earthquake-resistance is up to code for Colombia, taking into account the country’s high levels of seismic activity

4. The plastic stool by Studio Swine

Sea Stool is made entirely from plastic recovered from our oceans. Together with local fishermen, the plastic is collected and made into a stool at sea.

5. Ocean – Plastic furniture by Brodie Neill

Designer Brodie Neill has worked with recycled ocean plastic to produce new furniture pieces and used them to create a waterfall installation in a London hotel called Drop in the Ocean, the installation was on show at the Foster + Partners-designed ME London hotel as part of the year’s London Design Festival.

It is intended to encourage people to think more carefully about how they contribute to the vast global consumption of plastics, which has resulted in vast amounts of pollution in the world’s oceans.

The designer first showcased the material in 2016, with the Gyro table he presented during the London Design Biennale. A year later, he has used it to create a new collection, called Flotsam, which includes a bench and a basin-like coffee table. All three pieces are designed to make the waste material look like something beautiful.

6. Serpentine Pavilion, London

Designed by SelgasCano, the 2015 Serpentine Gallery Pavilion is constructed from a minimal steel frame wrapped in multi-coloured ETFE—a fluorine-based plastic—in the form of both sheets and webbing. Inspired by the London Underground, the plastic sheets come together in a series of dynamic tunnels between the structure’s frame.

7. SodaBib by NYIT students

The team just launched a Kickstarter campaign to fund a full-scale shelter using their patented water bottle roofing system: the roof is constructed with discarded water bottles that are crushed, overlapped, and offset like Spanish tiles. The bottles are then aligned and attached to roof structure using the shipping pallet, which disassembles into linear Soda Bottle Interface Brackets or SodaBIBS.

8. Plastic house, Dublin

The Plastic House in Dublin, Ireland, is constructed from polycarbonate and steel. The house is a complex series of interconnected and overlapping spaces. The lightweight plastic structure is the primary source of light in the evening for the house, as inset fittings cause its translucent surfaces to illuminate in all directions.

9. Drivhus planning and administrative office, Stockholm

Along with a workspace for 1,800 people, Drivhus will become an open, democratic space for civil servants, politicians and the public to meet and discuss future city developments. The greenery from the park will continue into the building, literally crawling “under the skin” of its ETFE (a fluorine-based plastic with high resistance to energy radiation) double- façade, becoming a part of the building’s energy and ventilation systems. The threshold between facade and building will create a temperate microclimate for the growing plants and complement the interior workspaces.

10. Silver shack

The neighbourhood of Sangsu, which is crowded by slum houses weaving around little alleys, provides a “stimulating landscape both socially and physically” which the architects took aspects of the existing houses to inform their design strategy. The recycled elements of the surrounding houses, specifically their corrugated panel roofs, in addition to Sangsu’s power plant, inspired the architects to experiment with a layer of translucent polycarbonate fixed on a regular steel frame to show the 13mm aluminium coated insulation and circulations spaces. The simple massing includes studios and apartments that are supported by two hollow piles.  Working within a strict budget, the architects used common construction materials in an innovative way to reach the desired aesthetic and energy requirements.

 11. Solar Bytes

The Solar Bytes pavilion, designed by an assistant professor at Kent State University Brian Peters, is a temporary structure which highlights the potential of new techniques available to architecture: robotic arms, 3D printing, smart technologies such as lighting sensors, and solar energy.

Leveraging the strength and range of motion of a robotic arm, the pavilion was printed in three dimensions with an experimental extruder, resulting in a structure composed of 94 unique modules that capture energy during the day and shine at night. After their initial function, the plastic modules making up the pavilion will be completely crushed and reused in a new structure.

The modules were 3D printed with polypropylene plastic filament using a DOHLE hand welding extruder, the Mini CS, which was attached to a KUKA Agilus and utilizing an FDM style printing process. The modules were printed with a continuous extrusion; material flowed from the print head without stopping and starting, following a series of vertically stacked printing paths composed of polylines.

12. L house by MooMoo architects

It is the first house whose elevation has been made entirely of a plastic insulating material -Thermopian. Usually, this material has been used only for roofing. Thermopian has good thermal, acoustic and insulating properties and it can have any required colour.

13. The Zig-Zag house

The north wall of the courtyard is defined by a bottle of green polycarbonate skin, casting a greenish glow onto the surrounding walls and pavers at night. As one moves into the building, a burst of complex intersections becomes apparent, enlivening the space and defining a spatial environment that is unexpected and varied.

14. The Cola-bow installation

Designed by Penda, the cola-bow installation is a public art installation made out of more than 17,000 recycled plastic bottles, which were braided to create a shape inspired by the swings of the Coca-Cola logo. Designed for the 2nd Beijing University Creation Expo, which turns into the Beijing Design Week, the installation aims to also serve as a statement against plastic pollution by taking trash and turning it into a shelter. More images and architects‘ description after the break.

15. Floating dining room/ Goodweather design by Loki Ocean

This temporary floating dining room was designed for a summer fundraiser by The School of Fish Foundation, a non-profit organization committed to promoting sustainable seafood. The semi-enclosed space floats on over 1700 recycled plastic bottles. The project intends to bring attention to the abundance of plastic litter floating in the oceans but also suggests a possible use for such waste. Due to budget and time constraints, the design of the structure remains a conventional post and beam assembly allowing the framing to serve as a finish.

16. Parasite office by Za bor Architects

The prominent feature of many Moscow areas is the presence of multi-storey buildings with blind end walls and wide passage between them. This project provides for usage of free spaces between buildings for creation of original and economic offices which do not block the courtyard access. The project provides for the creation of a three-floor volume with an accessible roof area, divided with modular floor panels. The framework which shapes it, is a single structural unit clamped between the blind facades of the houses. The polygonal main facade solved in dynamical volumes is made from light and durable cellular polycarbonate; the facade turned to the courtyard is flat and completely glazed.


Renuka Shinde, an architect turned environmental strategist loves voicing her opinions regarding her perception of architecture which, considering where you are reading this is, makes perfect sense. She is an IGBC AP and currently works as a green building consultant in Mumbai. Having worked as a set designing intern, a design architect and now a writer she believes life should be lived in experiences.

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