Installations Reflect Tragedy of Consumption Behavior

Georgia Tech School of Architecture students are testing their abilities to imagine, design and construct in an international competition intended to increase awareness of consumption behavior and the power of recycling.  An 11-member team has constructed a tower made out of plastic bottles along with a hanging tower constructed of plastic hangers.

Tower of Babylon 2
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The international competition, Tower of Babylon, sponsored by the Global Alliance of Technical Universities, has seven teams from architecture universities in China, India, Singapore, Switzerland and the United States.

The aim of the competition was to have a new perspective on sustainability by focusing on inspiration, networking and collaboration to achieve a symbol for a region, a country a city and its university. The competition mandated each team use only local materials, their know-how and their hands.

“The concept of three bottle towers juxtaposed with inverted towers of hangers was selected because our team believes that both materials reflect the wasteful consumption patterns of our culture and that both materials could make beautiful installations,” said fourth-year School of Architecture student David Duncan.  “As bottles and hangers are each PET products, we felt that the two were related and would work well together.  We knew it would take a lot of effort to design and build two separate installations, but it was worthwhile in the end.”

“The concept was selected because it combines two aspects,” said Baerlecken.   “First of all, it creates awareness about two products of our everyday life: plastic bottles and coat hangers. We see how many bottles are consumed on campus on one day and we see how many hangers are wasted during one year at one local department store. The installation gives trash a spatial presence. We can see invisible data.” 

Baerlecken continues,  “But at the same time we see how waste can be highly aesthetic. The installation creates a series of spaces that inform different perceptions of the surrounding space through color, light and configuration of parts with variable connections. The project shows how waste can be up-cycled rather than down-cycled.”

“This installation will function as a conduit of awareness of our self-destructive patterns of consumption,” said Daniel Baerlecken, the faculty adviser for the team.  “I’m proud of the work the students have done and I know they’ve learned a tremendous amount in a short time period.”

The international competition, Tower of Babylon, sponsored by the Global Alliance of Technical Universities, has seven teams from architecture universities in China, India, Singapore, Switzerland and the United States.

The aim of the competition was to have a new perspective on sustainability by focusing on inspiration, networking and collaboration to achieve a symbol for a region, a country a city and its university. The competition mandated each team use only local materials, their know-how and their hands.

Georgia Tech’s students have seen the project through the construction process from concept to design to construction.  The design utilizes two concepts of a tower made out of plastic bottles and a hanging installation made from plastic hangers.

“The concept of three bottle towers juxtaposed with inverted towers of hangers was selected because our team believes that both materials reflect the wasteful consumption patterns of our culture and that both materials could make beautiful installations,” said fourth-year School of Architecture student David Duncan.  “As bottles and hangers are each PET products, we felt that the two were related and would work well together.  We knew it would take a lot of effort to design and build two separate installations, but it was worthwhile in the end.”

“The concept was selected because it combines two aspects,” said Baerlecken. “First of all, it creates awareness about two products of our everyday life: plastic bottles and coat hangers. We see how many bottles are consumed on campus on one day and we see how many hangers are wasted during one year at one local department store. The installation gives trash a spatial presence. We can see invisible data.” 

Baerlecken continues,  “But at the same time we see how waste can be highly aesthetic. The installation creates a series of spaces that inform different perceptions of the surrounding space through color, light and configuration of parts with variable connections. The project shows how waste can be up-cycled rather than down-cycled.”

According to team members, one of the most difficult parts of the process was finding enough bottles.  Approximately 13,000 bottles and more than 5,500 hangers were used to construct the installation. The plastic bottle portion of the installation represents the amount of consumption of plastic bottles on Georgia Tech’s campus in one day.

“I’ve enjoyed the process because we’ve been able to take designs that we made and see them all the way through construction,” said Duncan. “Normally in architecture studios, you complete the designs and then nobody builds them.  This has been an enjoyable experience because we’ve been able to take it through the whole process of getting the materials and then actually constructing it ourselves.  There is a certain amount of pride that comes from building something that was difficult and impressive.”

Students suggested that learning about the materials and how they would react under pressures of construction was a lesson for them.

“In order to construct the towers, we made panels with the bottles by stitching them together with rubber bands,” said Duncan.  “The panels have plastic sheets as the base layer and template. We took those panels and put them together to form rings, stitching them together with more rubber bands. The plastic sheets are bolted together and that creates some structural rigidity, which keeps the towers from buckling on themselves.”

“The most unique part of the construction phase was the bottle tower. We had so many assumptions about how the bottles would operate,” said Christina DeRiso, a fourth year College of Architecture student.  “We knew we needed the acrylic rings, but ultimately to go higher, the rings would have needed to be spaced smaller.  It has just been a learning experience about how the material operates.”

“The hangers portion of our installation went phenomenally,” said DeRiso. “It worked exactly the way we planned it, and we had a surplus of modules that we were able to infill and really make them work together.  Each one of these modules contains 12 hangers and forms a cube-like structure.”

Georgia Tech’s team members are Abaan Ali, Zachary Brown, Colleen Creighton, Christina DeRiso, David Duncan, Bradley King, Chris Martin, Caleb Meister, Eric Morris, Amyn Mukadam-Soldier and Brittany Utting.

The only other participating institution from the United States is California Institute of Technology.  The other universities include Eidgenossische Technische Hochschule Zürich (ETH)(Switzerland), Imperial College London (United Kingdom), Nanyang Technological University (Singapore) and Shanghai Jiao Tong University (People’s Republic of China).

The Georgia Institute of Technology is one of the world's premier research universities. Ranked seventh among U.S. News & World Report's top public universities and the eighth best engineering and information technology university in the world by Shanghai Jiao Tong University's Academic Ranking of World Universities, Georgia Tech’s more than 20,000 students are enrolled in its Colleges of Architecture, Computing, Engineering, Liberal Arts, Management and Sciences. Tech is among the nation's top producers of women and minority engineers. The Institute offers research opportunities to both undergraduate and graduate students and is home to more than 100 interdisciplinary units plus the Georgia Tech Research Institute.