In the future, everything will be made of garbage. Your flying car, your personal companionship robot, even the house you live in. That’s because we’re making way too much garbage to deal with, and once the ocean’s full, we’re going to have to figure out something to do with all this trash. You may not have noticed, but it’s already started: container homes are only a thing because it was cheaper to discard all the steel shipping containers that brought Chinese imports across the Pacific than to ship the empty ones back.
“Well, yeah,” you’re saying. “I’ll live in a trash house made of shipping containers, because it looks cool. But I’d never live in a house made of, say, old Ben & Jerry’s ice cream cartons.”
Are you sure about that? The Bima Microlibrary, in Bandung, Indonesia, is constructed out of a couple concrete slabs, some steel I-beams, and 2000 recycled ice cream cartons, and the small elevated building is stunning. The white plastic bins form a dazzling geometrical facade, and their white translucent plastic admits enough natural light to illuminate the interior. The architects say they were inspired to build the library by “the decline of interest in reading and books,” which, yeah, is a real tragedy, but is building a library out of literal trash really getting the right message across?
“Fine, I’d live in a house made from old ice cream cartons,” you’re saying. “But that’s where I draw the line. You could never make a beautiful house out of, say, discarded plastic water bottles.”
Man, you’re really on a roll, but not in a good way. The “Head in the Clouds” Pavilion on Governor’s Island in New York is a beautiful cloud-shaped dome made from over 53,000 water bottles. (That’s how many of the plastic bottles are thrown away every hour in NYC.) The architects beat out 200 other entrants to win a city-sponsored design competition, and built their plastic cloud with $13,000 from a Kickstarter. The basic structure is made from sand, water, and an aluminum frame, and the water bottles are filled with organic blue food coloring to give it that celestial vibe. Living inside a glowing blue cloud is the dream of every 9 year old, and also of every habitual marijuana smoker.
Another interesting building to use water bottles was the PET Pavilion in The Netherlands. The pavilion was a temporary structure based on Mies van der Rohe’s Farnsworth house; two massive slabs with a simple steel structure. The floor-to-ceiling walls were made of double panes of transparent plastic, so the 40,000 crumpled water bottles were dropped down inside the walls. Think about that. Not only is it recycling, your whole house could become a huge garbage can! You’d never have to take the trash out again. On the other hand, all your neighbors could see years and years of your trash, which could get pretty awkward.
“Okay, sure, the water bottle and ice cream carton houses are cool,” you’re saying. “But those are perfectly geometrical shapes. They’re almost made for building. Most garbage is impossible to build with. Stuff like old plastic office furniture.”
Man, you couldn’t be more wrong. (Whew, putting words in an imaginary person’s mouth makes these transitions so much easier.) In the Czech Republic, architects took an old dilapidated car showroom and transformed it by bolting 900 black plastic office chairs to the exterior wall. According to the architects, the old building was “morally outdated … and did not correspond to the needs of society.” Well, that’s nothing the addition of 900 plastic chairs can’t fix, right? I’m not sure the new building serves any particular “need of society,” but it does look pretty unique. Imagine if one of your eco-conscious friends built a container house, and then your other eco-conscious friend one-upped them with a plastic water bottle house, and then your third friend threw his hat into the ring by building an ice cream carton home. They can debate among themselves who has the coolest recycled house, but no one’s touching your home made of plastic office chairs you got from the dump.
So why did the designers of the Czech chair house choose chairs? Because they were free. And that’s the most compelling reason why we’ll all live in trash houses some day. Recycling may give us a virtuous little glow, but nothing’s cheaper than free.