“The Anthropocene is a proposed epoch that begins when human activities started to have a significant global impact on Earth’s geology and ecosystems.” 1
An exploration into the novel and unconventional building materials that might be derived from this particular era of time and the notion that an entirely new architectural vernacular might be composed of these material findings.
“This is a new era for design, which suggests a shift from ‘materials of design’ to ‘design of materials’.”
(Elvin Karana, DIY materials)
CRAFT IN THE ANTHROPOCENE
In a not so far off future, we may be required to forage and mine for materials that were once used prolifically and then discarded.
” To reflect on this concept, three objects (a pestle, a mortar and a vessel) were created around speculative scenarios based on real anthropogenic facts and events. They envision how these potential future raw materials could be used by future craftsmen.
– A pestle made out of Cumbrian Bone Marble, resulting from the 2001 Foot and Mouth disease in Cumbria, North West England.
– A mortar made out of PPC (Pacific Plastic Crust), a material/scenario depicting plastic as one of the most sought after mineral of its time. PPC would originate from the prominent plastic pollution in the Pacific Ocean.
– An aluminium vessel which reflects on the prolific aluminium industry and its spillage in the river Thames.” 2
Evidence that we are beginning to be surrounded by artificial geologies can be seen in the waters around Hawaii where a new type of rock is forming. Fragments of this new material are known as ‘plastiglomerates’. 3
“It doesn’t seem like much of a stretch to suggest that our landfills are also acting like geologic ovens: baking huge deposits of plastiglomerate into existence, as the deep heat (and occasional fires) found inside landfills catalyzes the formation of this new rock type. Could deep excavations into the landfills of an earlier, pre-recycling era reveal whole boulders of this stuff? Perhaps.” 4
Fictional landscape depicting the possible future of plastic mining.
Anglo-Japanese Studio Swine have produced a number of ornaments and pieces of furniture that have been molded and formed out of the swarming plastic debris of our oceans.
“Seeking to mine what they call a “plastic soup” for resources, before sorting the findings by color and grinding them into pellets. The pellets are then melted using custom-built equipment that can be moved to the source of the materials.” 5
Studio Swine, South Pacific Gyre, 2015 6
‘Precious Plastic’ is a Dutch group whose plan is to ‘allow people, anywhere in the world to transform plastic waste into valuable things.’ In order to do this they have designed several simplistic machines to implement this plastic recycling process and have published their designs online for the public’s use. 7
Looking beyond plastic to other materials that are somewhat unique to this day and age, led to ‘StoneCycling’ and their recovery of masonry based materials from demolished building sites to form waste based bricks. 8
” This process goes beyond the conventional practice of masonry salvage and reuse, which privileges intact modules. Instead, van Soest and team use a tub grinder to crush the reclaimed stones or bricks—including partial fragments—into fine aggregate and then form new modules with a kiln. The products bear the mark of the StoneCycling process; the WasteBasedBrick modules, for example, exhibit the colorful, combined aggregates, differentiating them visually from conventional brick.” 5
WELL PROVEN CHAIR
The next obvious direction to look was at the wastage of wood during the fabrication of furniture and other such industries.
“Understanding that there is 50% to 80% of timber wastage during normal manufacture, we looked at ways of incorporating waste shavings into design using bio-resin. A curious chemical reaction occurs when it is mixed with the shavings, expanding it into foam. By adding colour dye and varied-sized shavings from different workshop machines, a colourful, lightweight and mouldable material was created, reinforced by the fibres in the hardwood shavings.
The porridge-like mixture of resin and shavings was slapped on to the underside of the chair shell by hand, building up the material wherever extra strength was required. The mixture then foamed explosively to create its own exuberant form.” 9
As seen in the former example of the ‘Well Proven Chair’, the implementation of experimental materials can be extremely successful when combined with elements of a more traditional nature.
A studio that excels in this marriage of the experimental and traditional is the Italian duo of Formafantasma.
“The designs of Studio Formafantasma offer an alternative vision to today’s consumer society and the role that design plays in it. Their unique, handmade products (table service made of a flour based material, stools made of fish leather and sea sponge, bottles made of resin) are statements about material and function. By opting for natural materials and pre-industrial (traditional) techniques and combining them with new possibilities of use, Studio Formafantasma makes suggestions for an alternative, democratic design method: what they offer is a kind of manual for getting to create yourself.” 10