Plastic bottles are thought of as inherently wasteful, but what if the containers could go on to have a productive second life elsewhere? An experimental prototype shelter designed by an architecture design studio at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (RPI) in Troy, New York, wants to turn that packaging into structurally-sound shelters.

Second Lives | After Bottles was first assembled on RPI’s campus where it endured real-world conditions and later moved to Industry City in Brooklyn for Wanted Design from May 16 through 22 (part of NYC x Design Week 2018). The installation was made possible through the use of a proprietary bottle patented by Friendship Bottles LLC, which uses grooves and wedges to create a tightly interlocking bottle design.

The different types of bottle joints. (Courtesy Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute)

Throughout the design studio, RPI students, educators, and engineers sought to design a shelter that would be self-tensioning, stable, and that used the least amount of materials. Even the bottles packaging has been integrated into the final design; the team has created a triangular wooden crate that can unfold to form a topography-following floor and acts as a base for the plastic walls above.

3D printed joints and cross bracing were used to connect bottles at angles other than what the bottles themselves allowed. Lydia Kallipoliti, project lead and Assistant Professor of Architecture at RPI, said that the aim was to ship as few materials as possible into a disaster area. With a 3D printer on the ground, crates of water and an assembly diagram could be shipped in and the required parts printed in-situ.

Rainwater could filter into the open bottles and be used for washing. (Jonathan Hilburg/AN)

The team found multiple uses for the bottles, running LED lights through the bottles making up the roof, and filling bottles on the side with water and food for easy takeaway. Testing is still ongoing to ensure that the final design would be tight enough to keep out rainwater.

Another structure made from the same interlocking bottles was set up across from the Wanted exhibition hall, this one courtesy of RPI’s Center for Architecture Science and Ecology (CASE). The CASE team has built their “testing chamber” by arranging the bottles vertically and have been monitoring the internal heat, humidity, and air quality. Making sure that the bottles aren’t decomposing and releasing volatile organic compounds (VOCs) is especially important, as the UN has strict air quality guidelines for disaster shelters.

Inside of the CASE-built testing chamber at Wanted. (Jonathan Hilburg/AN)

Ultimately, the goal of Second Lives isn’t to introduce a new bottle into the plastic ecosystem, but to convert existing companies over, said Kallipoliti. If the Cokes and Pepsis of the world switched to a bottle that could then be used as a construction material, the worldwide reduction in waste would be immense.

Schematic drawing of how Second Lives‘ walls fit together. (Courtesy Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute)

Schematic drawing of Second Lives‘ flooring. (Courtesy Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute)

Project Lead: Lydia Kallipoliti (Assistant Professor of Architecture, School of Architecture, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute)

Project Team: Adam Beres, Bryce Crawford, Amanda Esso, Reed Freeman, Emily Freeman, Jacob Laird, Deegan Lotz, Christopher Michelangelo, Arun Padykula, Raina Page, Abigail Ray, Daniel Ruan, Emily Sulanowski, Stefanie Warner

Collaborators: Tom Roland (Fabrication Coordinator, School of Architecture, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute), Andreas Theodoridis (PhD Candidate, Center for Architecture, Science and Ecology/ Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute)

Structural Engineer: Mohammed Alnaggar (Assistant Professor of Architecture, Civil and Environmental Engineering, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute)

Sponsor: Friendship Bottles LLC, Timothy Carlson (Managing Partner)

CASE Project |Transitional Bottle Shelter Environmental Analysis 

Project Leads: Josh Draper (Lecturer, CASE, RPI), Alexandros Tsamis (Associate Director, CASE, RPI)

Project Team: Alexis Clarke, Valerie Kwart, Yiqi Song, Duo Zhang, Mohammed Aly

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