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.


Igloo Design

April 16, 2010

The Igloo is a beautiful thing. I think it deserves its own design category. It falls somewhere between architecture and sculpture and performance art; creating shelter, giving form and evolving with the seasons. Igloo Design is a step beyond Green Design. It is Design with a capital I not a little g.  

Here are some of the qualities of Igloo Design:

  • The igloo is tenacious, built for the harshest climate, but fragile in the sun.
  • The igloo has form that is designed for optimum function. It is no taller than necessary, but built just the right size and shape to capture heat and create a comfortable environment inside.
  • The igloo uses no more materials than necessary. Frozen water in the forms of Ice and Snow are the building blocks for this structure.
  • Only simple tools are required to build the igloo.
  • Igloo design has little regard for financial value or social status, it is about survival and efficiency.  
  • When the structure no longer has value to the builder it can be abandoned without remorse. The igloo will eventually melt back into the soil with the changing of the seasons.

Now maybe all this exists in the built world, but I have only seen it in the natural world. Pieces of fruit, eggs, cocoons all share many of the qualities described above, but buildings? There are few buildings in today’s world that even strive for the same goals. Our structures are carefully designed creations using a collage of materials to thwart nature and provide robust spaces for living. Our cities are filled with beautiful, crafty well thought out machines where we live and work.

Perhaps we need to put our pride and ego aside and humbly examine the simple qualities of an Igloo? Perhaps we need to rethink how we design buildings, not just to go Green, but to create structures that evolve with the seasons, literally and figuratively. I know that I have a long way to go in my own design work to create something as smart and beautiful as an Igloo.