Critque: Bottle King

April 28, 2010

Critique: Bottle King

I recently saw a link about a new building in Taiwan built primarily out of recycled plastic bottles. It has gotten wide press coverage and deserves more examination.

The project is a wonderful demonstration in the reuse and innovation of materials. Creating buildings out of recycled consumer goods is not new, but this project certainly takes best advantage of the positive attributes of its main material PET bottles. The design maximizes natural light giving and makes good use of the bottle form in creating a smart structure. The spaces created appear to be creative and open allowing for varied activities or display. The exterior is interesting with the bottles giving a pixellated façade and a delicate curvature. Overall the building is pleasing to the eye. Based on the media attention the project appears to be a great success.

Now here is where I have issue. What I don’t understand is the building used for? It was designed and built as a pavilion, so it appears to be purely for demonstration purposes, but the demonstration of what? In the news piece there is mention of its use as a gallery or trade show space, but is that really the highest and best use for this structure? If it really is intended to showcase recycling plastic bottles, why not build a recycling plant, or alternately create a school of environmental studies housed in a recycled building? A pavilion seems self-serving.

The project was a fantastically expensive experiment both in time and money. I question the investment of resources, time and talent into a folly. The project really appears to be an ode to the plastic bottle, not a commercial on why recycling is important.

To be clear, I haven’t been to the building (nor Taiwan at all for that matter) and I certainly hope that the project is a raving success. My concern is that while the press touts the green aspects of the project I cannot grasp how a building of this type is useful or for that matter replicable in our larger society. If it fails to be occupied for anything more but a few days a year I believe it is a waste. It is a beautiful sculptural form that deserves attention and study, but in the history of architecture or green design I expect it will be little more than a footnote.

It is certainly green, but is it Igloo?

This is the big difference between green design and igloo design. Building a green building that is not useful means that it is also not sustainable. If this project fails to be effective the work and energy required to take the building apart and reuse or recycle the land and materials is just as great as it was before. Igloo projects must be useful and when they are no longer useful they must be reinvented or ultimately melt away.

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