The Dung Beetle Project farts flames as it transforms plastic into fuel

May 28, 2018 by  
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We tend to view plastic waste as worthless garbage, but a group of innovators and creators in Africa view it as an unexploited asset. In fact, they’ve used it to create the Dung Beetle Project , an art project that includes a pyrolysis gasifier to turn plastic into usable fuel. Through the effort, which recently debuted at AfrikaBurn and was spotted by the Land Art Generator Initiative , the Dung Beetle Project hopes to convert plastic from a problem to a solution. Inhabitat spoke with the project’s Finance and Marketing Director, David Terblanche, to find out more. Ideally, the Dung Beetle Project will roll around emulating the insect from which it draws its name — cleaning up waste and transforming it into something useful. The trailer-mounted movable art piece was sculpted with recycled metal in Johannesburg, South Africa, and it contains  gasification technology that recycles plastic into low-emission diesel and liquefied petroleum gas, or LPG. It’s not just the shape of the Dung Beetle that catches attention — it actually shoots flames into the sky by firing recycled gas, and it features an art stage as a platform for musicians, artists or jugglers to create “a spectacle of light and sound…to ignite people’s imaginations and spark excitement about solutions to environmental problems,” according to the group’s statement. Related: Shimmering Solar Arch to generate power for a post-industrial Connecticut town “We want to change people’s perceptions around what plastic is,” Terblanche told Inhabitat. “Right now it’s viewed as a waste, as litter, as a blot on the landscape,” but the Dung Beetle Project could help communities realize “this is a commodity that we can harvest, that it’s got some value, that we can turn it into something.” The Dung Beetle Project got its start when inventor Pierre “Pops” Pretorius, who lives on a rural farm, was tinkering with a gasification system using macadamia nut shells that would otherwise largely be discarded, according to Terblanche, a longtime friend of Pretorius and Jeffrey Barbee, project director and director of Alliance Earth , the organization backing the Dung Beetle Project. Pretorius wondered what else he might be able to gasify and thought of plastic. The friends all attend AfrikaBurn, a regional offshoot of Burning Man , and thought maybe they’d show off the gasification technology there. They had a scale working prototype and decided to transform it into a playa-ready art project. Both AfrikaBurn and Burning Man offered funding that the Dung Beetle team used to create a more sophisticated prototype; artist Nathan Honey designed the metal beetle shell. Here’s how the Dung Beetle Project works: plastic is shredded into pieces and burned in an oxygen-free environment in a reactor; gases then rise up while physical particles are recirculated to be burned again. The gases run through cooling ribs and condense into liquid, “similar to how a whisky still might work,” Terblanche says. Fuel drips out, and it can be used to power a vehicle or generator. According to the group’s statement, “Anything not burnt will fall out the bottom as pure carbon that can be placed directly into the soil to enrich it, or made into something more exciting like nano-tubes or graphene sheets.” There’s no waste, and while some emissions are produced when the resulting fuel is burned — it isn’t a clean fuel — the process used to create that fuel has no emissions,  and the fuel itself burns cleaner than oil. Any plastic could be gasified, but there are some types the team avoids using, like PET, as it’s easily recycled, or white PVC piping, which has chemicals like chlorine that don’t work well with the gasification process. “The big benefit is that [the Dung Beetle Project] can process things that can’t be recycled, like the cellophane wrapping your pre-packed salad comes in, and this process allows you to process items that would have just ended up in a landfill ,” Terblanche said. The vision for the Dung Beetle goes beyond AfrikaBurn. The group aims to take it on a roadshow to educate people and work with communities to create lower-tech versions inspired by Pretorius’ original gasifier built with recycled parts. “The really nice thing about the low-tech version is it can kind of be built in any little backyard garage. So imagine a mechanic who has a welding machine and a workshop. That’s all you probably need to make one of these,” Terblanche said. “So we want to spread the message, and if we can get hundreds of these out there, then we’re going to have hundreds of communities which are cleaning up their own plastic. And then at a community level you starting changing people’s behavior so the plastic doesn’t reach the ocean .” The project could even offer incentives to preserve forests: in places with shortages of fuel or employment, people chop down ancient hardwoods to make charcoal to sell. The Dung Beetle technology could provide fuel security as people use plastic instead of wood for fuel, and people could even sell the plastic for money or some of the fuel a gasification system would generate. In the future, the members of the Dung Beetle Project even see themselves taking to the seas on a boat powered with their tech, bringing the message to island communities facing plastic washing up on their shores. Terblanche said they’d love to “go out into some of these ocean gyres and basically fish for plastic and turn it into fuel on the boat, which we can then store in oil bunkers at the bottom of the boat. At worst, you’ll power the boat and get it across the ocean with its own plastic fuel; at best, you’re creating a commodity which you can actually sell.” The group has been invited to come work with a Mozambique nonprofit; there’s also been interest in the Dung Beetle Project from a Cape Town sustainability institute and even Serengeti National Park. Regardless of what happens, we’re curious to see where the Dung Beetle rolls in the future. + Dung Beetle Project Via Land Art Generator Initiative Images courtesy of Jeffrey Barbee

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The Dung Beetle Project farts flames as it transforms plastic into fuel

Brooklyn Grange announces a new location in a former WWII shipyard

May 15, 2018 by  
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Inhabitat is thrilled to announce that New York City urban farming group Brooklyn Grange is launching its first location outside the city — at Kearny Point in New Jersey. The location holds its own storied past: a former World War I and World War II shipbuilding yard in an industrial area that’s spiraled downhill, Kearny Point is undergoing redevelopment under recycling corporation Hugo Neu . Inhabitat caught up with Brooklyn Grange COO and co-founder Gwen Schantz and Hugo Neu CEO Wendy Neu to learn about the project’s emphasis on not only economic revitalization but also the restoration of local ecology . At Kearny Point in New Jersey, Brooklyn Grange will help with  landscaping , converting just under three acres of sod into a native meadow. In addition, the group will help transform about an acre of former parking lot space into a demonstration garden, complete with a vegetable patch and children’s play area, as well as host plant sales and educational workshops. Although none of these gardens will be on rooftops, Brooklyn Grange does plan to host green roof workshops using a Kearny Point roof. Related: 6 urban farms feeding the world Schantz told Inhabitat, “We know what these industrial spaces can become and how they can be reinvented. We’ve seen the evolution of the Navy Yard. When we talked to the people at Hugo Neu about their vision about Kearny Point, we really got it. It resonated with us.” Neu is one of the people behind that vision. She told Inhabitat that Kearny Point, which is between the Hackensack and Passaic Rivers, was once a main economic driver for the area as “one of the most productive shipbuilding facilities in the world.” During World War II, 35,000 people worked on the 130-acre site. But after the war, the shipbuilding industry died in the United States. Hugo Neu acquired Kearny Point in the 1960s and dismantled ships, but that operation shut down around 1985. Until recently, Kearny Point was an industrial warehouse distribution facility. “ Hurricane Sandy was a defining moment for us because we were approximately four feet underwater. We’d never had any kind of issue with flooding. My late husband and I know climate change is coming and the environment is changing dramatically, and we had to think about what we were going to do with this site,” Neu told Inhabitat. After her husband passed away suddenly, Neu joined forces with Steve Nislick, former Edison Properties CEO, with the goal of doing “something transformative.” The new vision for Kearny Point includes offices for startups, coworking spaces, and a waterfront opened to the public. “The opportunity to take a heavy industrial site like this and integrate all the new technology – wind, solar, stormwater – and be able to show we can have people growing businesses without having to harm the environment but also actually improve it at the same time is, to me, a very compelling opportunity,” Neu said. Brooklyn Grange is “an indication of just what the possibilities are.” The project’s native meadow serves as a prime example. According to Schantz, when people try to convert land into meadows or gardens, they sometimes kill what’s growing there with pesticides . Brooklyn Grange is taking a more natural approach: they’re suffocating grass and enriching the soil with the help of recycled materials , such as leftover cardboard from a nearby shipping company and wood mulch from a local tree service, both of which the urban farming group inoculated with blue oyster mushrooms. Once this process is complete, they’ll plant native flowers and grasses. “Our approach is, let’s take this strip of land which has had a rough history along a railroad track, it has not been loved the way it could be, and give it a new lease on life and make it a place where insects and birds can feed and nest, and restore it the way it might have looked before there was a shipyard here,” said Schantz. How will Kearny Point handle natural disasters in the future? Neu said that not only are they raising the site up two feet, they’re creating at least 25 acres of open space and putting in bioswales to boost the site’s resiliency. “We’ll have underground parking that will serve as reservoirs for water that comes onto the site. We’ll remove as many impervious surfaces as possible, which is huge in terms of the amount that gets discharged into the Hackensack, and we’re going to do everything to improve the quality of what gets discharged,” said Neu. “I want to minimize our impact as much as possible. We have to be able to figure out how to have people prosper without destroying the environment and further degrading it.” Brooklyn Grange’s first plant sale will be Sunday, May 20, from 10 a.m.to 4 p.m. “We’re really excited to be reaching out to our neighbors across the river,” Schantz said. “We know there’s already a culture of gardening here in the Garden State, and so we’re excited to bring some of our urban farming techniques and our general mindset of sustainable, organic gardening to the local community and hopefully get people excited about growing their own food .” + Brooklyn Grange + Hugo Neu + Kearny Point Images courtesy of Valery Rizzo

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Brooklyn Grange announces a new location in a former WWII shipyard

This groundbreaking new machine can recycle 220 pounds of diapers in a single hour

May 7, 2018 by  
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It takes hundreds of years for disposable diapers to decompose in landfills – but this new machine can turn 220 pounds of dirty diapers into clean, raw materials in a single hour. Sz-Chwun John Hwang and a team of researchers at Taiwan’s Chung Hua University built the machine as a pilot plant – and they’re planning to build a larger facility that can recycle 10 tons of used diapers in just one day. Disposable diapers are convenient but problematic Have you ever thought about the evolution of the diaper? You might be surprised to learn that the history of diapers goes back thousands of years, but disposable diapers have only been around since the 1960s. Diapers have evolved to be more effective and efficient. The disposable variety makes parents’ lives easier – they’re convenient, absorbent and gentle on babies’ skin. However, there is a huge downside to disposable diapers: the amount of waste generated from their use. In the U.S., it is estimated that 20 billion disposable diapers end up in landfills each year, and pathogens from solid waste contained in those diapers find their way into the environment. It can take hundreds of years for diapers to degrade in a landfill , and they release methane and other toxic gases into the air. If soiled diapers don’t end up in landfills, some companies choose to incinerate them, leading to an estimated 3428 kg of CO2 emissions per day, based on 10 tons of diapers per day. There is a need to reduce the amount of waste caused by disposable diapers, and companies and researchers are using technology to find innovative ways to recycle and reuse soiled diapers. Recycling disposable diapers Recycling diapers and other absorbent hygiene products might sound like a no-brainer, but the process has its complications — including cost-effectiveness and complex engineering. As technology advances, science can overcome these obstacles and make recycling disposable diapers a viable solution for reducing the amount of waste in landfills and harmful chemicals in the environment. Sz-Chwun John Hwang and his team have developed a diaper recycler that can make it easy for institutions — like long-term care facilities, day cares or hospitals — to give old diapers new life. The plan is simple: a specialized on-site washing machine sanitizes used diapers so they can be processed into reusable raw materials. The staff loads the machine with diapers and washes them with a disinfectant to destroy any pathogens. After the diapers are cleaned, the different materials (plastic, fluff fibers and absorbent material) are separated using stratification. This method uses less water than an average toilet, and the used water can be recycled on-site or easily disposed in the facilities’ existing drainage systems. The estimated carbon emission from this process is 35.1 kg of CO2 per day, based on 10 tons of diapers per day. After they are cleaned and separated on-location, the materials are taken to a central recycling center. The separated layers are transformed into new materials, which can be made into a range of products: plastic bags or trash cans from the plastic; new diapers, cardboard boxes or paper products from the fluff fill; and absorbent pet pads, desiccant or polyacrylate fiber from the absorbent material. In order for the product to be successful, the researchers had to make it user-friendly. If the process is too complicated or time-consuming, most people won’t bother with it. Hwang and his team designed the machines to make it easy for people to lift the diapers and load the machine. Diaper design must become more eco-friendly Hwang and his team are working with facilities to find new and inventive ways to recycle disposable diapers, and some other businesses are following suit. However, Hwang’s method stands out in that it focuses on making it easier for caretakers to collect the used diapers. Moving forward, diaper companies will need to partner with researchers to design the most effective and efficient diapers with a lower environmental impact. By finding innovative ways to reuse products and reducing the impact our waste has on the environment , we can help sustain our world for generations to come. + Chung Hua University Images via Chung Hua University , Hermes Rivera and Flickr

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This groundbreaking new machine can recycle 220 pounds of diapers in a single hour

The Science Place becomes Australias first new LEED Gold-rated educational building

April 24, 2018 by  
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James Cook University’s The Science Place recently earned the distinction of becoming Australia’s first educational building to achieve a prestigious LEED Gold rating. Designed by HASSELL , the sustainable building with state-of-the-art facilities brings together the university’s chemistry, biochemistry and biology research cohorts under one roof. The Science Place also recovered and recycled 96% of all the previous building materials—a new record for a Townsville development of its size. The nearly 130,000-square-foot The Science Place building serves as the iconic “home of science” and central hub on the university campus. The four-story structure stacks two floors of dedicated scientific research areas atop research-led learning spaces on the lower two floors, all linked by light-filled atrium spaces and a central open stair. “We’ve seen a surge in the desire to house STEM activities under the one roof as a way to increase cross-disciplinary education and knowledge sharing, and The Science Place is a prime example of achieving this goal,” said HASSELL Principal Mark Roehrs. “This not only makes sense from a building and asset point of view, but also for student experience as it increases interaction.” Related: The Global Change Institute Operates in a Net Zero, Carbon Neutral Research Center in Brisbane In addition to the recovery and recycling of previous building materials, the LEED Gold -certified university building keeps power consumption to a minimum thanks to natural daylight, daylight-sensitive lighting, water-saving taps, and a light-colored reflective roof that reduces solar heat gain. A 25kW solar rooftop area also generates 125kWh of renewable energy a day. For improved health and comfort, the building is also equipped with superior indoor air quality management and testing, multiple low-emitting materials, and performance-optimized smart metering. + HASSELL Images © Andrew Rankin

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The Science Place becomes Australias first new LEED Gold-rated educational building

Giant glowing bottle walls light up Singapore for plastic binge awareness

April 24, 2018 by  
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Design collective Luzinterruptus worked their artistic plastic magic last month with an illuminated plastic bottle installation at Singapore’s I Light Marina Bay , dubbed “Asia’s leading sustainable light art festival.” The massive glowing artwork, called Transitable Plastic, comprised seven movable walls hung beneath the Esplanade Bridge, one of the busiest transit areas in the bay. Designed to raise awareness about the “plastic binge,” the interactive artwork required visitors to physically move the plastic walls out of the way in order to get to the other side. Installed for approximately four weeks, Transitable Plastic was created with over 20,000 recycled plastic units collected from the community and local businesses including hotels, restaurants and shopping malls over the span of a month. Luzinterruptus vacuum packed the plastic bottles to create larger panels that were then strung together to form seven large walls. These makeshift walls were hung from metal scaffolding. The installation took 10 days to complete. Related: Historic French building stuffed with plastic bags looks ready to explode “We [lit] the piece with a cold, neutral light which enhanced the glint of the plastic material and brought out the color of the labels allowing to easily guess which are the city’s most popular beverage brands,” wrote the designers. “As visitors entered the piece, landmarks disappeared so they had to get the plastic out of the way in order to avoid getting stuck in the corridors and to get to the other side, a healthier, more open place where they could breathe fresh air. A more-than-a-minute-long walk among plastics which could bring about a bit of asphyxia and inevitably the thought of plastic and its related problems.” Transitable Plastic was fully disassembled at the end of the event and the materials were sorted and recycled. + Luzinterruptus Images by Colossal Pro

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Giant glowing bottle walls light up Singapore for plastic binge awareness

Apple’s new recycling robot can disassemble 200 iPhones in a single hour

April 20, 2018 by  
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Just in time for Earth Day , Apple has unveiled a new recycling robot — and it can disassemble 200 iPhones in a single hour. Daisy can successfully extract parts from nine types of iPhones — and for every 100,000 devices it can salvage 1,900 kg of aluminum, 770 kg of cobalt, 710 kg of copper and 11 kg of rare earth elements. The robot represents a major step forward in Apple ’s mission to someday build its devices entirely from recycled materials. “We created Daisy to have a smaller footprint and the capability to disassemble multiple models of iPhones with higher variation compared to Liam ” — an earlier iteration of the company’s recycling robotics — Apple said in its 2018 Environmental Responsibility Report . Ultimately, Apple hopes to develop a closed-loop production system in which every reusable part of older devices is utilized in new ones. “To meet our goal, we must use 100 percent, responsibly sourced, recycled or renewable materials and ensure the equivalent amount is returned to market,” Apple said in its report. “Recognizing that this goal could take many years to reach, we remain committed to responsible sourcing of primary materials as we make the transition.” Though Apple has yet to release a timeline for its full transition, it has started active projects to recycle rare earth metals , paper products and more common metals from its supply chain. Related: Apple is now “globally powered by 100% renewable energy” Apple plans to add Daisy robots to several locations throughout the United States and Europe. Because the company is currently only able to incorporate used devices that it receives directly, Apple will emphasize its GiveBack program, in part by offering company credit for returned devices. Thanks to its recycling initiatives, Apple has already reduced its primary aluminum consumption by 23 to 25 percent since 2015. Despite the company’s initial success, some observers have advocated for more fundamental changes in Apple’s model. Greenpeace USA senior IT sector analyst Gary Cook said , “Rather than another recycling robot, what is most needed from Apple is an indication that the company is embracing one of the greatest opportunities to reduce its environmental impact: repairable and upgradeable product design.” Via Business Green Images via Apple

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Apple’s new recycling robot can disassemble 200 iPhones in a single hour

Whimsical park built of recycled materials pops up in Shanghai

April 5, 2018 by  
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Shanghai’s hip Anfu Road recently found itself home to a whimsical urban intervention showing how one man’s trash could be turned into public space treasure. AIM Architecture and URBAN MATTERS designed the temporary urban park, called Urban Bloom, as an experimental exercise pairing reclaimed pallets with glowing tree-like sculptures. “Transformed into an ideal urban garden, and constructed entirely from artificial means, it is a project for a city that emphasizes people,” wrote the designers. Open to the public, Urban Bloom is nestled in a quiet courtyard with popular eateries and boutiques within striking distance. Recycled timber pallets are used as modular building blocks stacked to form seating and visual interest. The installation undulates on one side to resemble hilly topography. Related: Shanghai’s sponge districts fight flooding with green space Potted plants are placed around part of the park’s perimeter to create a garden aesthetic. Plastic spheres tied to poles are filled with foliage in a sculptural take on trees. Repurposed materials were predominately used as part of the designers’ desire to promote sustainable concepts. “At the same time, cities are huge producers of waste and trash,” wrote the designers. “We wanted this new space to be low-impact, and interact with natural elements in an artificial way – in short, proving it’s possible to make something new from nothing new at all.” + AIM Architecture + URBAN MATTERS Via ArchDaily Images © URBAN MATTERS by MINI, CreatAR Images

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This tiny timber cabin was built from construction waste for under $30K

April 2, 2018 by  
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Transportable, versatile, and low-cost, this tiny timber cabin shows how crafty use of local and recycled materials can lead to impressive results. UK architecture firm Invisible Studio designed and built this mobile prototype using a combination of construction waste and locally grown unseasoned timber for just £20,000 ($28,105 USD). Called Trailer, the multifunctional structure follows in the footsteps of Invisible Studio’s previous projects, such as the Ghost Barn and their own studio space , both of which were built from timber sustainably grown and managed on site. Located in the woods near Invisible Studio’s workspace, the 430-square-foot Trailer project gets its name from the trailer the built structure sits on. The architects designed the building so that it can be legally transported on a public highway and added a removable wheeled “bogey” beneath the steel chassis for ease of use. “The project aims to provide a super low cost, versatile, useable space that could act as a kit of parts for any self builder to improvise around or easily adapt,” wrote Invisible Studio. “While conceived as a domestic space, it could easily function as a workspace or something else.” Related: Ghost Barn built of locally felled timber glows like a lantern at night Corrugated fiberglass and steel clad the building, while high-performance interlocking polycarbonate panels cover the two gabled ends to allow an ample amount of natural light indoors. The interior is lined in used shuttering plywood and all the joinery, including the two staircases, is crafted from plywood offcuts. Leftover blue rope, sourced from a previous project, is used for the handrails. The doors and insulation were also reclaimed and the roof lights were purchased as factory seconds. To reduce milling costs, the architects used timber of the “same section,” meaning timber was cut into 125 millimeter-by-50-millimeter pieces and then laminated up into the structural sections for the cross frames. + Invisible Studio Via Dezeen Images by Piers Taylor

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This tiny timber cabin was built from construction waste for under $30K

Schmidt Hammer Lassen designs BREEAM-seeking brewery renovation in Riga

March 23, 2018 by  
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Schmidt Hammer Lassen Architects has beaten the likes of Henning Larsen and Zaha Hadid Architects in a competition to design Kimmel Quarter, a major urban revitalization project in Riga, Latvia . Located in the capital’s Central District, the project will be centered on the redevelopment of Brewery Kimmel, a 19th century beer brewery rich in history. The adaptive reuse scheme will preserve the site’s historical roots while adding new mixed-use programming that follow sustainable design principles. The 11,500-square-meter Kimmel Quarter will become Riga’s new destination for working, shopping, and recreation. The abandoned industrial buildings that occupy nearly an entire city block will be restored and transformed into a 30,000-square-meter office building, a hotel, a public gym, a child care center, a cafe, a spa, a food court, and a convenience store. Inviting courtyards and plazas will tie the various spaces together. “We wanted to create a new composition of building volumes as pragmatic and straight forward as the old industrial complex with a dynamic façade that pushes back and forth and up and down,” said Rasmus Kierkegaard, Associate Partner at Schmidt Hammer Lassen. “The resulting architecture is distinctly modern, but in a rewarding dialogue with the old restored buildings. We have designed a new Kimmel Quarter in which history and the future are bound by timeless architecture.” Related: Lookout Loop bird observatory in Latvia doubles as a temporary shelter Sensitive adaptive reuse, passive solar orientation, and use of recycled materials and rainwater are part of the design’s focus on sustainability. Kimmel Quarter will follow BREEAM standards and is expected to serve as one of Riga’s model project for meeting the European Union’s 2020 climate and energy package goals. + Schmidt Hammer Lassen Architects Images via Schmidt Hammer Lassen Architects

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Schmidt Hammer Lassen designs BREEAM-seeking brewery renovation in Riga

Media lab built from recycled shipping containers pops up in half a day

March 22, 2018 by  
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Four recycled shipping containers have found a new lease on life as Bard College’s new media lab in upstate New York. Quick, affordable, and modern, MB Architecture’s speedy lab solution for the Bard College Department of Experimental Humanities has the added benefit of a folding glass door that blurs the boundary between indoors and out. Prefabricated offsite, the Bard College Media Lab was installed in just half a day and fully operational within a few weeks. Located in the middle of campus near a Frank Gehry concert hall, the 960-square-foot media lab cost slightly over $200,000 for prefabrication , delivery, and installation. The four shipping containers were stacked into a single blocky monolith with the exterior painted matte black. While the corrugated sides were retained—perhaps as a reminder of the building’s industrial past—large glazed panels punctuate the building to bring in views of the outdoors and create the illusion of spaciousness inside. Related: The Coolest Bar in Texas is Built With Seven Stacked Shipping Containers Flexibility was built into the design of the lab, which will be shared by different college departments. The first floor comprises multiple entrances, a bathroom, and a double-height meeting room that opens up to the quad through a large pivoting garage door. By opening up the interior to the outdoors, the room can be used as a stage for performances, concerts, and theatrical events. An office is located on the second floor. + MB Architecture Via ArchDaily Images © Matthew Carbone

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