THE DEVELOPMENT OF PLASTIC ARCHITECTURE
1.1 Cover of the first issue of the journal “Kunststoffe”, published on 1 January 1911.
André Coulon together with the engineer Yves Magnant developed a series of
1.2 Geodesic dome made of GRP elements, R. Buckminster Fuller, 1954. 1.3 Mobile hotel cabin,
dwelling units and a building out of the new material. Known as the “snail shell
I. Schein, R.-A. Coulon, Y. Magnant, 1956. The plastic cells made of GRP were conceived as modular units and optimised for transportation.
house” because of its geometry, it was constructed out of a combination of flat and uniaxially curved GRP sandwich panels with GRP stiffening ribs. The organically
formed sanitary cells of the snail shell house and the mobile hotel cabin developed
in the same year gave an indication of the design potential of the new material. An important step was made with the development of building elements 1.4
as sandwich constructions in which fibre-reinforced plastic was combined with PUR insulation materials. The use of this technology, in which an insulating core material is sandwiched between two thin GRP layers, made it possible to create lightweight and simultaneously rigid sandwich elements which were ideally suited for self-supporting building skins. The “Monsanto House of the Future” (architects: Richard Hamilton and Marvin Goody, engineer: Albert Dietz, USA, 1957) made use of this principle. It was the first plastic house to be fully developed for mass production. Although it was destined for industrial production, only the prototype was realised. Nevertheless, the building was effective in demonstrating the structural, architectonic and thermal performance of the plastic constructions and, above all, because of its futuristic formal language, the design possibilities of the
new material. As a result, interest in plastic houses grew rapidly around the world. Engineers and architects researched the material and numerous projects followed that exploited its benefits. The 1960s in particular were characterised by a variety of architectural experiments aimed at finding a form appropriate to the material. The use of new materials also brought forth a new formal language. In many houses made of plastic, rounded forms and curved building elements are to be found in variously pronounced forms. In addition to a general predilection for rounded forms in the 1960s, the use of curved building elements can also be attributed to The specific properties of fibre-reinforced plastics, in particular their light weight, good weather resistance and excellent forming characteristics in con-
ing, folding or creasing the thin material of the building skin to stabilise its form.
junction with comparatively high strength, make them of particular interest for
The ability to prefabricate elements and the low level of maintenance required
architectural applications. The first projects for buildings made of plastic were
for buildings made of plastic, also played a decisive role. One of the high points
developed as far back as the 1940s. The buildings were conceived as a serially
in plastic architecture was the IKA (International Plastic Housing Exhibition) in
producible system of prefabricated elements in order to compensate for the lack of conventional building materials after the end of the Second World War. These projects, however, never made it into production. After the war various plastics manufacturers attempted to find new markets 1.2
Lüdenscheid, Germany, which from 1971 onwards featured a series of prototypes for family dwellings and holiday homes, including the “Futuro” (architect: Matti Suuronen, engineer: Yrjö Ronkka), “Rondo” (architects: Casoni & Casoni, engineer: René Walther), “fg 2000” (architect: Wolfgang Feierbach, engineer: Gerhard
in the realm of architecture. Pioneering architects and engineers began to experi-
Dietrich, Carsten Langlie) and “Bulle Six Coques” (six-shell bubble house, archi-
ment with the new material. The first use of glass fibre-reinforced plastics (GRP) in
tect: Jean Benjamin Maneval, engineer: Yves Magnant).
building constructions was in 1954 for military radar domes. The geodesic domes
The technical requirements of mass production were often the point of depar-
devised by Richard Buckminster Fuller were an ideal application for the light,
ture for planning deliberations, although the prototypes themselves were typically
translucent and electromagnetically permeable GRP material.
the desire to lend the comparatively flexible material greater stiffness by curv-
made laboriously by hand. The intention of the designers was to use existing manu
In contrast to thermoplastics, construction elements made of fibre-reinforced
facturing methods for the cost-effective production of plastic houses of a high
polyester resin are easy to produce without the need for complex machinery and
technical standard. In 1973, the Darmstadt Institute for Building with Plastics (IBK)
are therefore ideally suited for the manufacture of prototypes. The first residen-
published a comprehensive report that documented 232 international concepts
tial building made of plastic was built in 1956 in France. In collaboration with the
and realised projects. The majority of the projects never made it beyond the proto-
French chemical company Camus et Cie., the architects Ionel Schein and René-
type; only 38 % of the examples shown were built more than once, mostly in small
Published on Oct 1, 2010
This book seeks to fill that gap by providing an introduction to the structural and design possibilities of plastic. It introduces the mater...