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POLYSTYRENE HOUSE Ronan & Erwan Bouroullec Paris, France 2002 Portable Structure List of Materials Polystyrene Blocks Plexiglas Sheets PVC Tubes Steel Wood Time it takes to assemble it on site : 1 to 6 hours People it takes to assemble : minimum of two Time it takes to deliver it to site : varies Cost of building : $650 - $750 Number of components for shown example : 40 Polystyrene Blocks 10 PVC Tubes 96 Linear Feet of 2” x 4” Wood Studs 12 Linear Feet of 2” x 10” Wood Studs 5 Sheets 1/2” x 3’-3” x 5’-4” Plexiglas 1 Chimney 1 Prefabricated Door 9 Sheets 4’ x 8’ Plywood

Polystyrene, while being a good packaging material, is also a very popular insulator in homes. The material has been used for many years, for various purposes, but never as the structure of a building. Two brothers from France came up with a way to give those small packaging foam peanuts we all throw away a new home, literally. Two French furniture designers and brothers Ronan and Erwan Bouroullec designed their experimental Polystyrene House in 2002. It is a small, lightweight, portable home built up of polystyrene, plywood, PVC, rubber, strings, and plexiglas. The progression of putting the structure together goes quite quickly, depending on the size of the build team. When finished, the house takes on the appearance of a tunnel, having the polystyrene surrounding the home on all sides except two, which are covered with the wood and plexiglas. This structure creates a space for a single room structure. The process of building is very simple, much like a puzzle. A series of interlocking polystyrene blocks combine to make very large rings. The blocks come with holes bored into them, which align with the PVC tubes. Once the rings are assembled, they are then slipped over the PVC tubes, like slipping a few washers onto a bolt. The tubes are where the structure gets most of its support. The size of the home depends on the number of rings that are used, more rings means a longer building. Once all of the rings are combined on the PVC tubes, the floor is covered with plywood, and the wood and glass facades are attached. The water and electrical casing is contained within the floor. While this is a very simple and effective design, it isn’t quite complete and habitable after construction is finished. Polystyrene, while being a durable insulator is also quite flammable. If the building were constructed, it would need to be covered with a fire-resistant material for safety. When asked by Icon Magazine about the Polystyrene House, this is what the brothers had to say; “We are working a lot with what we call micro-architecture, which is a way of dividing space and finding new ways to build inside things. It’s between a room and a bed. It’s a box you can move. It’s the idea of the flexibility of interiors; it’s more like an alphabet. It’s very important for us, this flexibility.” Flexibility is achieved in this project not only by the way the building is put together and taken apart, but in a number of other ways. It expresses flexibility by the versatility of the building itself. It can be used by anyone, in just about any climate, at anytime. It is easily assembled, easily transportable, and easily adaptable to what you want to use it for. It is also flexible in the fact that it is a material that we have overlooked for many years and now we have another use for it. Polystyrene pollutes our planet everyday and takes between 50 and 100 years to decompose, so it is a good thing that we are able to use it somewhere other than the landfill.

One of the most interesting qualities of this building is the way it is put together. The Polystyrene House has it’s own unique form of assembly that adds speed and ease to it’s construction. Five different blocks come together and secure through joints molded into each one. These form a large ring.

Assembly of Polystyrene Blocks to Form Ring

Multiple rings are then combined by sliding the PVC tubes through the holes in the blocks. The plywood is added for the flooring, and then the two wood and plexiglas facades are attached. A chimney is then fixed into place to provide ventilation.

Combination of Rings and Addition of Facades and Chimney

By looking at the floor plan, the thickness of the walls shows the insulative value of the building. Two feet of polystyrene surrounding the space on the floor, the walls, and the roof is quite a bit of material. This view also shows the size of this configuration. Eight rings would sleep approximately four people, but the number of people that can fit inside is dependent on the number of rings used and the length of the PVC tubes.

Channel for Water and Electric Lines PVC Pipe


Polystyrene Chimney

Floor Plan


The building section shows where the PVC tubes would slide through the polystyrene bocks. The joints are visible, as well as the rectangular channels below the plywood flooring where electrical and water lines can be run.

Section A

The shape of the rings not only offer a safe dwelling on the interior, but on the exterior the roof allows for rainwater and snow to run off easily. The bottom is raised on two platforms that keep most of the structure off the ground and out of the water if it were to rain.

Front Elevation

It would be hard for some people to get inside the building because it’s entrance is two feet from the ground. Shown here is one example for a way to enter the building, by way of a polystyrene block and PVC tube porch.

Right Elevation

The time of assembly depends on the amount of people, but two people would be able to complete the project with only an afternoon’s worth of work. With four more people, it could be finished within one hour.

Magazine Article Fairs, M. “The Bouroullec Brothers.” Icon Magazine. 21 Sept. 2005 <>

Web Sites Are You a Good Sort? 21 Sept. 2005 <> Ronan & Erwan Bouroullec Design. 21 Sept. 2005 <> The Office of Energy Efficiency. 21 Sept. 2005 <>

Polystyrene House  

Ronan & Erwan Bouroullec Design. 21 Sept. 2005 <>

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