Lara Pinho

Studio Project: Plastic Fantastic: A Deadly Love Affair

Plastic has transformed our lives. It has made the modern world possible.

Milk is no longer delivered in glass bottles. Supermarkets offer a wider range of fresh produce in a variety of proportions and sizes. Modern medicine has greatly benefited from the disposable syringe. It is in airbags, incubators and helmets. It is even accountable for bringing clean drinking water to those in need. (2) But as we already know all too well, there is a dark side to this miracle material. We depend on plastic so much that we are now drowning in it.

Billions of tons of plastic have been made in the past few years. An astonishing 91% of it is not recycled. A massive amount of this plastic waste – most of it used just once – ends up in the ocean, causing harm to birds, marine animals and fish. (1) Some animals are strangled by abandoned fishing nets or six pack rings; others swallow enormous amounts of micro plastics. Whole beaches are covered in a sea of plastic. Our planet is choking and we need to do something about it.

The good news is that we already know some of the answers to this problem. An obvious solution is to reduce the amount of single use plastic, but this alone is not enough. It also calls for a comprehensive, global approach, that involves rethinking plastic chemistry, product design, recycling strategies, and consumer use. If we take a look at the current production of plastic products, all too often, products are made that are not recyclable, because recyclable and non-recyclable plastic parts are combined and cannot be easily separated. It is also true that being associated primarily with consumer goods and associated packaging, this is a problem that design and designers must claim some responsibility for and therefore have an integral role in addressing. (3) If we, as creatives, re-think the process keeping in mind the whole product cycle, we can certainly make a positive impact.

This studio is based on research currently being undertaken by the Industrial Design Research Lab (IDRL) at the School of Design – University of Western Australia. In line with IDRL’s endeavours, students will be focusing on the potential of design-research methods to add value to recycled plastics by using recycled synthetic plastics in the design and development of architectural products to be applied to low-cost, sustainable, and culturally appropriate buildings on the island of Sumbawa, Indonesia, where the plastic waste situation has gained increasing attention in global media in recent years. In addition to an architectural product, students will also design a community-based facility to sort and process plastic waste. Other than its primary function as a waste facility, the design will simultaneously be used to demonstrate to the local community how the designed architectural product is applied, with the aim of it being used in the future design and development of environmentally sustainable, high-quality, affordable housing for these local communities.

A crucial factor in the design will be to investigate effective solutions and systems for owner-driven construction. The capacity of the project to provide economic and social resilience to communities through skill enhancement and especially the empowerment of local women is an integral aspect of the research. Students will assume the responsibility of making conscious assessments when designing by opting for solutions that support sustainable construction and renewable energy, as well as incorporating the use of local materials and construction techniques in order to lower negative environmental impact and promote local economies. Students will be mindful of the importance of location and material analysis, develop the different design phases and ultimately reach a degree of detailed resolution.

Students should become aware that as future architects they have the ability to assist communities that would not normally have access to an architect, but are perhaps those that would most benefit from an architect’s knowledge.

The studio will endeavour to work closely with the IDRL and its partners. This may include guest presentations, invited design critics or studio incursions.

(1) Parker, Laura ‘Here’s How Much Plastic is Littering the Earth.’ National Geographic. Accessed 11 February 2019.  https://news.nationalgeographic.com/2017/07/plastic-produced-recycling-waste-ocean-trash-debris-environment/

(2) Plummer, Robert ‘Plastic Fantastic: How it Changed the World’. BBC News.11 January 2018. Accessed 12 February 2019. https://www.bbc.com/news/business-42646025

(3) Sawyer, Mark; Industrial Design Research Lab (IDRL) – University of Western Australia; Lecturer, Architecture & Design, School of Technology, Environments & Design, College of Sciences and Engineering, University of Tasmania, 2018.

Profile: Born in South Africa, Lara Camilla Pinho studied in Lisbon and Paris and is co-founder of the design studio blaanc borderless architecture. One of blaanc’s main goals is to work with sustainable building and affordable design with a special approach in contributing to better living conditions.

Lara is also former co-founder of the non-profit humanitarian association Adobe for Women which was based on three fundamental pillars – Construction, Sustainability and Empowerment.

Lara coordinates undergraduate and postgraduate studios that respond to global humanitarian issues using sustainable solutions and also undertakes research focusing on the use of traditional construction methods and local building materials.

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