Ebb and Flow: From Packaging to Shelter

The start of the new year often provides the opportunity for people to think critically about the year ahead and set goals for what they hope to accomplish. For some, these aspirations extend well beyond the calendar year and require strategic thinking and smaller goals set along the way to reach their ultimate objective. At SMMA, we’ve long been proponents of sustainable design, and have been actively working towards goals set forth by the AIA 2030 Commitment in 2013. In our work, we look to our staff for their expertise and inspiration. 

When Christopher Michelangelo was a fourth-year student at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, he was involved in the design and construction of an experimental emergency shelter prototype. The pavilion was constructed from a patented upcycled plastic bottle design from Friendship Bottles LLC, which uses grooves and wedges to create an interlocking design. The idea was to create a structure that would be self-tensioning, stable, and limit the number of materials used so that it would be easy to ship to areas with communities experiencing conditions of distress. In addition to the bottles, they made use of 3D printed joints to create connections in addition to the grooves in the bottle design, as well as analytical drawings and architectural modeling to test different usages, configurations, and ease-of-assembly. 

The installation, titled “Second Lives | After Bottles,” was the culmination of a semester-long design studio that functioned as a “collaborative design-built thinktank” and research on disaster relief that brought together architecture and engineering students alike. Lead by Professor Lydia Kallipolti, the course was intended to foster dialogue on the politics of plastic and the ability to upcycle materials in an ever-changing climate. 

After Bottles received an Architect’s Newspaper Best of Design Awards Honorable Mention for Research and was on display during NYC x Design Week in 2018. 


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