Bottles to building blocks

TAIPEI, Taiwan — It's light, airy and made out of 1.5 million recycled plastic bottles.

The main exhibition hall of the Taipei International Floral Exposition — set to open in November — is this city's answer to the environmental degradation caused by the rapid proliferation of petrochemical-based drinks containers.

Showcasing cutting-edge technologies for green, low-carbon construction, the building with transparent walls and chandelier-like ceiling lights is called EcoARK, and bills itself as the world's first large structure fashioned from recycled plastic bottles.

It's basic building blocks, called polli-bricks, are formed from reprocessing plastic bottles into a hardened construction material.

Architect Arthur Huang says Taiwan is a natural for a building like EcoARK, because the island's well-developed plastics industry has bred a local expertise in dealing creatively with plastics products.

"From making plastics, Taiwanese have acquired the skills to process plastic bottles into useful building material," he said.

With hardly any effort, Huang lifted a panel of hollow polli-bricks interlocked into a honeycomb shape.

He said the pieces are melded together in a lego design strong enough for EcoARK to withstand major storms and earthquakes — an important consideration in a city where typhoons and violent seismic jolts are not uncommon.

Many environmentalists have long championed low-carbon buildings as a way of fighting global warming, and Huang insists that EcoARK's polli-bricks are the next best thing to natural materials such as straw mats.

He explains that the transparent building is naturally lit as the air pocket in the hollow brick insulates it from heat, and points out that processing light weight plastics produces far less carbon than glass making.

And there's another advantage as well, he says.

EcoARK cost only 120 million New Taiwan dollars ($3.8 million) to build, about a third of the cost of a conventional glass and steel structure.

Huang said his firm, Miniwiz S.E.D. Co. Ltd., is now looking to replicate EcoARK's building style in warehouses, factories and even private homes.

"I would like to share the technology with other architects to help with the disposal of the great numbers of plastic bottles" dumped daily in the world, he said.

Taiwanese architect Kuo Ying-chao said the use of polli-brick was "an original concept and a very good idea" but there may be many problems to overcome when applying the idea to structures other than showrooms.

"A building involves many things, and if you add windows, ventilation or other elements to the structure, it may not look so good after all," Kuo said.

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