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Pavilion Made of Beverage Cartons Breathes Life into Waste as Construction Material

According to the EPA, in 2012, the United States generated about 251 million tons of trash. Statistics like this make us uncomfortable waste is neither a resource nor a product, and thus we force it out of our consciousness. What if we didn't have to push our waste—even our recycling—aside?

This concept has, of course, has become very commercially appealing with all the recycled goods now available to customers, but ETH Zurich, the science and tech-focused university in Switzerland, recently took the concept to a new level of ambition at the IDEAS CITY Festival in New York's Lower East Side.

From May 28-30, members of the university's architecture department brought The ETH Future Garden and Pavilion, the brainchild of Architecture Professor Dirk E. Hebel, to the First Street Garden.

The Pavilion is made from paper, polyethylene and aluminum—the materials typically used in beverage cartons. If these don't sound like the kind of materials that you can built a large structure out of, you would normally be right but the special catenary shape of the structure follows the flow of the forces it exerts, resulting in an unusual level of strength. Triangular sections in its arches also give the structure added depth for its thickness and weight.

The variegated materials of the structure's roof were extruded by the U.S. company ReWall, which presses boards (usually intended for interior wall cladding) out of 100 percent reused, shredded beverage cartons. The process isn't easy or carbon-neutral, requiring great water and energy use to separate the laminated layers from the paper, and such inventive reuse of materials draws attention to the fact that only about 40 percent of U.S. households have access to facilities for this type of recycling at all.

The upshot of such a strenuous manufacturing process is that the ReWall material is waterproof, making it perfect for the great urban outdoors. But not all structures like this need to be durable. In one particular presentation of the project called "In the Future There Will Be No Waste," Hebel and his collaborator Phillippe Block introduced audiences to inspiring projects like the Living's Hy-Fi, a structure made out of biodegradable materials that returned itself to the earth at MoMa PS1 last summer.

And as Hebel pointed out in his documentation of the project, the ReWall material can be repeatedly re-compressed and re-configured after it has been manufactured. It's a new way of thinking about architecture: as a process that lives and breathes, but also hopefully yields resources as well, not just waste.

The ETH Future Garden and Pavilion

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