The main pavilion of Ideas City, an event taking place from today until Saturday in New York’s Lower East Side, takes the shape of a vaulted roof over a wall system made of wooden pallets. It’s the roof that counts: the arches comprising the 90-metre-squared structure are made from recycled beverage cartons. The project, led by ETH Zurich’s Assistant Professor Dirk E. Hebel and Professor Philippe Block and developed with a team of students, turns a highly sustainable material thus far confined for use in wall construction into load-bearing architecture.
The emphasis here is on experimenting with new uses for waste material. As the school explains, “Waste is also an integral component of our raw material world and we need to recognize its potential as a recyclable material for the creation of new products…The design highlights the various ways in which waste material – obtained from discarded beverage cartons – can be used in a clever manner to build impressive and load-bearing structures.”
To put this ethos into practice, the university worked with the U.S. company ReWall, which employed a shredding machine to chop up the drink cartons, which are made of aluminum, paper and polyethylene, then pressed the new material into panels on a conveyor belt using heat and pressure, without additional water or glue. The panels were then shaped into triangular building blocks that “enlarge the static height, reducing the structure’s weight and make prefabrication possible.” In the days before the event, the blocks were assembled on-site into 40 pre-stressed arches that absorb compression forces. Shipping pallets, stacked to form walls, prop up the roof.
In all its phases, the building speaks of its provenance: The cartons’ former life can be glimpsed by the roof’s speckled appearance, and the event programming includes an exhibit called Building from Waste, named after the book that the pavilion’s architects have recently put out and featuring a collection of 20 construction materials derived from waste. Finally, the entire roof structure will be recycled after the pavilion comes down.