Green Home Building and Sustainable Architecture

Sustainable architecture is an exciting and important field, with many people reviving traditional methods of building and others creating innovations to established practices. Kelly Hart, webmaster of the popular website, posts text and photos featuring what he discovers from around the world.

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Location: Crestone, Colorado, United States

Kelly Hart has been involved with green building concepts for much of his life. He has also worked in various fields of communication media, including still photography, cinematography, animation, video production and now website development. Kelly has lived in an earthbag/papercrete home that he built and consults about sustainable building design.

September 02, 2008

The Billboard Earthbag Project

Each year the Society for Environmental Graphic Design sponsors a contest to recognize the best in environmental graphic design. This year’s Juror’s Award went to Norman Lee and Charles Houser for their Billboard Earthbag Project.

The designers say: “Because most conventional sandbags are fabricated from polypropylene, they are very vulnerable to UV rays and quickly begin to deteriorate when exposed to the sun. Consequently, earthbag shelters need to be plastered to maintain their durability during extended use.The Billboard Earthbag Project envisions using billboard vinyl as an alternative material for earthbags. Polyvinylchloride (PVC) or vinyl, a virtually indestructible, UV-resistant material that cannot be incinerated because of the toxic gases it would emit, represents a substantial portion of the PVC in the world’s overburdened landfills. Because of its durability and imperviousness to the sun and other elements, billboard PVC is an ideal material for reuse.”

“The reuse of billboard vinyl in earthbag construction mitigates the impact of global warming in two ways. Transforming this landfill-bound material into another useful product helps lessen landfill overflow worldwide. It also eliminates the need to protect earthbags from UV rays, resulting in more robust emergency shelters that can be used longer to lessen the human suffering caused by natural disasters.”

“As a visual concept, each billboard shelter stands as a symbolic gesture of sustainability. Beyond its environmental benefits, the strategy of reusing billboard vinyl visually recontextualizes the nature of billboards, which are symbols of mass consumerism and a pervasive form of visual pollution in our world. This concept does not seek to generate imagery, but instead appropriates existing commercial imagery as a metaphor for global recycling and reuse. Assembled together into a shelter, the earthbags create a dynamic and vibrant pattern of collaged images and text from around the world, dramatically suggesting a unified, international gesture of sustainability, hope, and humanitarianism.”

According to the jurors, they "were intrigued by this project as an example of ‘cradle-to-cradle’ design pertinent to the signage industry. Utilizing intrinsic qualities of billboard PVC—UV resistant and near indestructible—this concept proposes the creation of dwellings from recycled material and imagery. The idea takes the recycling of billboards, street banners, and print graphics—already employed by art museums in the creation of second-use products—to another level. Truly inventive!"

This all sounds pretty good, and might well work if the billboard material were cut and sewn into bags. One obvious disadvantage of the idea is that since PVC is toxic when burned, this would present a potential hazard to the occupants, but of course this is true of many modern building materials. PVC poses a great risk in building fires, as it releases deadly gases long before it ignites, such as hydrogen chloride which turns to hydrochloric acid when inhaled. As it burns it releases yet more toxic dioxins. Additionally, vinyl does outgas highly toxic VOCs over time. Fortunately most of this danger would have passed with the use of recycled signs, but this could also be an issue.


Anonymous David Miller said...

Wow, these are amazing pictures! I enjoyed your post.

7:57 PM  
Anonymous Alex said...

Yes is very good post. It`s very intresting information.

12:48 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

This is such an exciting idea - wonder how it would really look like. Living in South Africa I can really imagine htat this would be a great way to provide affordable housing for so many.

1:52 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Exporting toxic waste once again, America?
Looks hip, and well intended, but are you not aware that all flexible PVC products contain phtalates? ...Which wash off in contact with water and will contaminate any body of water...Has been found in any living organism, accumulates on top of the food change (Oops: That's us!). Believed to be the cause of premature breast growth in girls and testicles in boys...Though it may save USA loads on silicone implants, I still find it's a post which ought to be heavily censored...
BTW: A new 300 house subdivision in Denmark is required by the county to be build 100% without PVC (not even in electrical cables)...Google 'Stenlose syd' for more information
..And EU has for years been looking into outlawing PVC, but seems as if the lobby is to strong.

Thank you heaps for your site and all you do Kelly, but this one here is almost as bad as building houses out of tires (when rammed earth houses has stood for 1000+ years without tires)..or heaven forbid; the concept of 'firing' an earthen home (Kalele style), making it much less breathable, coated with sod and wasting precious fire wood. Auch!

Peace and Love,
The PermaLot Center for Natural Building

1:47 PM  

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