Thursday, January 20, 2011

Week 18_Flora Expo, the Eco Ark

Taipei International Flora Exposition - the Eco Ark

During my visit to the Flora Expo last weekend (see previous blog post), one of the major buildings we toured was called the "Eco Ark" - a building designed using PET, aka polyethylene terephthalate, bottles.

Signage wrapped around a structural column,
Educational display as you wait in line for the building tour.
PET bottles have gained significant popularity among green enthusiasts because the material can be recycled and reformed for reuse as a new product. There are a wide variety of products containing PET on the market now - everything from water bottles, to clothing, to carpet. In this case, the architect specifically used a stacking block like system of PET bottles to create the walls and ceilings of the Eco Ark structure. Of course, because we were on a quest to find "green" at the expo, we picked apart the design concept and formed our own opinion about the building. Just a few things to consider...

Eco Ark - 1st floor ceiling and 2nd floor wall above.
Walking up to the building we were unsure what to expect, but upon arrival it was clear that the PET bottles were mostly aesthetic. That is to say, the building still utilized a traditional steel beam & concrete column structure, with plastic bottles used in lieu of exterior bricks or interior wall board.

1st floor ceiling, curving up to 2nd floor wall.
All of the bottles used were clear (the natural color of PET) stacked together in an original locking pattern - shaped just for this building project - and lit with lighting both from behind and some down lighting slightly recessed into the ceiling (see at back of photo above).

PET bottle chandelier
PET bottles were even used on the interior of the building for decorative items - such as the chandelier above, or hand painted varieties painted by children and used as artwork in the building.

So, without any further research, 
here are some initial observations - some pros & cons about this PET building:

- The Eco Ark uses PET in a new way. It showcases many benefits of this recyclable material : the adaptability yet durability of PET.
- The building reused thousands of pounds of plastic, diverting the waste from ending up in a landfill.
- The design of the building was generally pleasing, with attractive curves and back-lighting. This is important, because people will not choose to use recycled materials if they are not also satisfied with the appearance and functionality of the products. 
- The Eco Ark was designed to encourage the public to think about new ways of building green. One of many on-going steps in the right direction. 
- When the Eco Ark is finished, the plastic bottles could be recycled and repurposed if they want - they are made from 100% recyclable materials. 

- The PET bottles were not able to be used in their original forms. The plastic was re-manufactured to create these unique building blocks - requiring more energy and natural resources (unless the process was powered by solar or wind energy..)
- The PET bottles still required glue (lots of it) to help solidify the structure. Most adhesives release harmful VOC's (volatile organic compounds) into the air, decreasing the quality of the air we breath. 
- The PET resin was most likely supplemented with additional chemicals to create the cleanest and most durable building blocks. 
- The bottles are clear: (Petty as it sounds) Everything shows up on those clear bottles - from a trapped leaf, to a bug corpse - they might require significant maintenance, and water usage to stay clear and pretty. A colored material might actually be more functional, and release less wasted light into the night sky. 
- Many people see the end result of the building and may not understand the life cycle impact of the complete materials/resources used to create it - there are still more problems that need solutions, and greener solutions yet to be found.
- The building system worked well as a temporary structure, but would require intensive integral design to accommodate heating, cooling, plumbing, and functional lighting systems, as would be required of a more permanent structure. IE, this is not necessarily the future of our most inhabited buildings... 

Close up of the bottle stacking system - custom bottle shape designed for the Eco Ark building.
Conclusion: The building is not entirely green-washing (refer to previous blog posts...), but it could have gone further to educate the public on the bigger picture. Most people will tour the Eco Ark and say something like "yeah, did you see that new green building made out of reused plastic bottles?" It is important to break down the finished product and look at the time, labor, and energy that went into the end result. The Eco Ark was a fine idea, but it is not necessarily "the answer."

'What is "green"?' is a question that we are perpetually developing new answers for - our many "green" ideas still need us to take a step further, dig deeper, and complete the bigger problem of finding even greener solutions. At the same time, it is always nice to see someone pushing the envelope. In this case, the building envelope.

1 comment:

  1. Great to pictures and info on the blog.good to analyze the potential.still a lot left to make this practical,good discussion of problems yet to be solved,however glad to see they are moving forward, it will take many building on each others ideas to get there..more time, more teamwork,you can be a part of the positive change to green