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The development of plastic architecture

Plastics are high-performance materials with very different properties and can be found in the world around us in many different forms and applications. One of the areas where plastics are used is architecture. Building with plastics is an experi­ mental and highly interesting specialist area of architecture. In this chapter we will examine some of the most important developments in the history of plastics in architecture. Plastics are a comparatively recent material, despite the fact that the natural precursor of today’s modern material – natural rubber, harvested from the gum tree – has been known for over 500 years. Today plastics are generally artificially produced. The motivation behind the development of the modern material dates back to the period of early industrialisation and the need for an artificially producible alternative to the highly sought-after but expensive natural raw material. Intensive research activities soon sprang up to find a cost-effective and artificial material capable of replacing the natural product that could be syntheti­cally manu­factured in large quantities. The German name for plastics, “Kunststoff”, meaning literally “artificial material”, became more widely known with the publication of a journal of the same name in 1911. Beside the synthetic manufacture of ­materials, one of the most important motivations for the development of plastics was to be able to optimise special material properties. A significant number of the plastics used today in construction had already 1.1

been developed by the end of the 1940s. These include, for example, ­polyvinyl chloride (PVC), polymethacrylate (PMMA), polystyrene (PS), polyethylene (PE), polyurethane (PUR) and polytetrafluoroethylene (PTFE). Beside these basic types, there are numerous different modifications with special formulas designed by manufacturers to serve specific purposes. Plastics, and in particular fibre-re­ inforced plastics, make it fundamentally possible to fashion a material for a particular application. For this reason the improvement or rather optimisation of material properties focuses less on the creation of new materials than on the ­further development of existing materials as well as their combination in the form of composite materials. The foundation for high-performance composite materials was laid in the 1940s with the development of polyester resin in combination with the industrialscale production of glass fibres. This concept for a composite material was quickly adopted for a variety of uses, for example for the construction of aeroplanes, boats and vehicles, and the new material rapidly established itself in many different industrial fields.

PLASTICS in Architecture and Construction  

This book seeks to fill that gap by providing an introduction to the structural and design possibilities of plastic. It introduces the mater...