Plastic: The Use of Everyday Materials as a Design Tool; Towards a Material Perspective on the Process of Urbanization

Revilla Perez, Jose Arturo (2018). Plastic: The Use of Everyday Materials as a Design Tool; Towards a Material Perspective on the Process of Urbanization. PhD thesis The Open University.



In the last six decades, plastic and its vast variety of forms have become the most common man-made material of everyday usage. Plastic is in everything we touch and see drastically affecting our day-to-day lives. Furthermore, this material form has extended its influence beyond our direct experience into areas such as infrastructure, global commerce, and communication becoming a central player in our complex contemporary material culture. This thesis examines the impact that the everyday use of materials such as plastic has had in the configuration of the physical environment to explore the relationships and synergies between urbanization processes and architectural design. The research looks at Fernand Braudel’s concept of ‘material civilization’ (Braudel, 1981), which reveals daily discrete material manipulations as key for the development of civilization and addresses it as a theoretical platform from which architecture can rethink through the material its relationship to processes of urbanization.

Both secondary and primary data were used in developing the concepts in this investigation. The secondary data revealed the importance of everyday use of plastic in the contemporary environmental and cultural landscape, but also that architectural practices and design studies have historically concerned themselves with investigations of the formal and the conceptual, leaving the material on a secondary plane. Under principles of social awareness, communal participation, and spatial reconfiguration, the primary data was collected from three design interventions NUBE-PET, BAG-NET, and PSM. These design interventions indicated how, through architectural design processes, everyday material could be used as a tool, with which complex social phenomena – such as urbanization – can be explored and exposed. While the conventional understanding of urbanization refers to the processes in which the shift from rural to an urban condition happens, as well as the processes of; agglomeration of people, intensification of the built environment, and concentration of economic systems, the three interventions shown in this research expose urbanization in terms of intensities highly influenced by the complexity generated around consumption, disposal, material logistics and every day material manipulation processes.

By providing users with touch and feel experiences, the complexities of our contemporary material culture were highlighted. The design interventions indicated that the life cycle of plastic is, in fact, a complex multi-stage process and involves the collaboration of many stakeholders. It was concluded that the combination of everyday material manipulation processes and design strategies could have the potential to become a tool to leverage public participation and promote reflection on various contemporary urban issues. The three public interventions featured a new path for methodological inquiry in building information and knowledge. All three constructed environments successfully re-negotiated the role of public space in contemporary urban contexts by indicating how the public realm can be a place where people gather to participate in group activities, interact and forge relationships as well as a space to be used for didactic and promotional purpose. If this dissertation succeeds in alerting on the importance and potential of everyday material as a tool with which complex social phenomena such as urbanization can be explored and re-framed in different terms, it would have served its purpose.

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