Inflatables visualize the plastic waste crisis

The world is inundated with plastic waste, a material that has the potential and the need to be reused. In an undergraduate architecture studio, students at the Pratt Institute created large-scale inflatables from recycled plastic to both visualize this environmental problem and present ideas for using excess plastic in the design. .

“The studio used inflatables to create efficient large-scale geometry systems that raise critical questions around the problem of plastic waste from films,” said Robert Lee Brackett III, assistant associate professor of undergraduate architecture, who led the course with Duks Koschitz, undergraduate professor of architecture. This type of plastic includes the thin material used in grocery bags, dry cleaning covers, garbage bags, plastic wrap, and flexible packaging.

The studio’s work was part of ongoing research at Pratt’s dra Lab (architectural design research) where Koschitz is director and Brackett is co-director. Working as a team, the students studied and tested inflatable construction techniques to develop plastic welding patterns for making walls, tubes, domes, and other shapes that could be part of large free-standing structures. In addition to understanding the design of inflatables, they looked at ways to reduce plastic waste in architectural processes where they impact the environment throughout their production and lifecycle.

The students recently installed their structures outside the library on the Pratt Brooklyn campus, each presenting a different take on inflatable design. One was a labyrinth of undulating shapes in which people could discover portals framing perspectives on campus. Called “Super Maxi”, it was designed to spark the conversation about single-use plastics in feminine hygiene products. “The inflatable that we have created is not only a structure of interaction and pleasure, but also a tool and an agent to raise awareness about the problems associated with the use of plastic,” said Rithika Vedapuri, BArch ’23. “It gives people a space to gain knowledge and start a discussion about possible alternatives to using plastic. “

The “Super Maxi” inflatable team including Ayse Bengiserp, Sophi Lilles, Jia Yi (Melody) Lin, Beren Saraquse and Rithika Vedapuri (photo courtesy of Sophi Lilles)

Appearing like a mound of plastic, representing an aggregation of waste, “Super Maxi” allowed interaction and movement throughout the piece.

“We learned things like material tectonic relationships, the advantages and limitations of plastic, human scale factors, and creative problem-solving skills, things that only appear by building something that is taller than you, ”said Sophi Lilles, BArch ’22. “Learning with these parameters really made us think in a completely different way than what we’re used to.”

Inside view of the

Inside view of the “Super Maxi” inflatable

Plastic Confusion was an inflatable game made up of a black and white cube pleated to reflect on both the good and the bad that plastic technology has brought to the world. Visitors had to navigate a small space to enter, an experience referencing this tension, before entering an open-air interior room, a moment of revelation about how plastic has become an essential material but its toxic life cycle. must be taken into account.

The plastic Confusion inflatable

The plastic Confusion inflatable

“Plastic has undoubtedly changed the course of our world and through our project we are examining the duality of plastic, both the good and the bad,” said Alan Weng, BArch ’23. “It’s a constant battle because plastic is often deceptive. It can be so easy to use but so difficult to throw away. And it’s the interstitial space that needs to be dissected – how we ultimately balance the use of plastic and plastic waste. As plastic has become an inevitable part of our daily life, we often forget where it ends up after using it.

The inside view of Plastic Confusion

The inside view of Plastic Confusion

A tent-shaped pavilion with cantilevered ends called the Pop-Up Drop Off was designed to increase recycling awareness. Outside Higgins Hall before they settled into the library, the team used their inflatable as a plastic wrap drop site where people could drop plastic into pockets on the structure. They incorporated plastic bags and plastic wrap from neighborhood collection points into one of the sheets of their structure, the plastic wrappers of paper towels, grocery bags and wrappers visible in the structure.

The Inflatable Pop-Up Drop Off

The Inflatable Pop-Up Drop Off

The Inflatable Pop-Up Drop Off

The Inflatable Pop-Up Drop Off

A fourth project called Wrapped Bubble has been inflated inside Higgins Hall, its shape referencing the single-use packaging common in shipping boxes. The structure with plastic tubes and a black layer inside was meant to engulf the visitor to give him the feeling of how plastic consumes the planet.

The Wrapped Bubble Inflatable

The Wrapped Bubble Inflatable

Each of these structures reflected the culmination of the students’ research into designing inflatable structures that could be lightweight and easily deployed in a variety of settings. Their dynamic projects show how plastic waste could be reused in design as well as how architecture can spark a conversation about its damaging impact on Earth.

Bryce K. Locke