July 27th, 2010, posted by Matt Grey Tags: Build, Design, Matt Grey, Plastiki

The Plastiki was nothing if not ambitious. We wanted bicycles that would generate electricity, a hydroponic garden, water stills, vacuum de-salinators, a composting toilet, solar panels, wind turbines, regenerative electric propulsion, satellite communications and pretty much anything else that constituted an innovative sustainable “system”. She was to be a floating showroom of non-emitting futurist ideas that were simple, elegant and wholly attainable.

Our concept architect, Michael Pawlyn, had set us firmly on this road, seeding a whole range of ideas in his iconic white pen on brown paper sketches. Like so many other things with this boat all we had to do now was figure out how to make them and ergonomically integrate them into the structure.

Hand in hand with the systems ran the cabin. The jewel in the Plastiki crown; suspended in mid air between the two hulls and typically referred to as “the pod”. For the design of the cabin we turned to Architecture for Humanity and Nathaniel Corum. The brief ran a little like this: a replicable structure that can be dismounted and “re-used” in a disaster situation in order to provide timely shelter. One idea was that the cabin panels could be made from recycled plastic and fashioned with a commonality in mind that would allow them to be re-assembled into a geodesic self supporting structure no matter where they might be found in the world. A kind of relief Lego utilising ubiquitous world wide waste.

The design morphed wonderfully from egg into angular triangular stealth dome. Dimensions were carefully pushed and pulled to accommodate heads and shoulders, feet and toes. Consideration was given to water catchment, port holes, ventilation, solar panels and all kinds of other life enhancing additions. It was like the Ferrari with all the extras.

Part of the design process was outsourced to the architect students of UCLA which turned out to be a fascinating and highly rewarding exchange of ideas. The students were briefed to produce a dual purpose accommodation pod that would provide life support and shelter for the crew aboard the Plastiki and be quickly dismounted with the same use in mind on land. Caravaning for the trans ocean set. For me it was especially interesting to see how the students had addressed the human dynamic of six people living in such close quarters for so long. Once more we were in the exciting position of being able to weave the process of innovation into the adventure in a way that propagated the global story of smarter, considered solutions for a Smarter Planet. If the Plastiki could talk she would tell a story of profound design integration and the dogged pursuit of perfection. No stone was left unturned in the sometimes tortured thinking and rethinking of her ultimate materialisation. Each and every part of her has its own individual tale of worry and wonder, trial and error and eventual “eureka!” moment.

In fact, I think the cabin probably wins on all those fronts. The design we had, the wherewithal to build it on the other hand, not so much… 144 individual triangular panels, 864 unique angles and no internal structure to build off; we were masochists at every turn, slaves to our own un-bended ambition and we loved it.

The cabin would be made from the same srPET panels that we would make the rest of the boat out of. The desire was to make it akin to a seamless jelly mould. A 30ft by 15ft self- supporting jelly mould that people would look at and wonder how? The plan was to build a replica in wood which would itself become the mould for the mould – no easy task in itself and as it turned out, a full two months work. The second stage: of applying the srPET was less well understood and not entirely surprisingly as our understanding of the material at this point was still very limited. The principal based on our then understanding of the material was as follows: seal wooden mould so that it is airtight. Drape srPET cloth over the mould. Cut foam triangles as per the design and arrange them on the mould. Drape layers of cloth over foam triangles. Cover everything in high temperature vacuum bag and vacuum. Incidentally, the purpose of the vacuuming stage is not only to clamp everything together but to stop the material from shrivelling into a ball with the introduction of heat. Heat was next. We would take our heaters and somehow suspend them four inches above the material passing over the surface of the mould inches at a time in order to melt and consolidate the plastic into the monolithic structure that would become the cabin. Sound difficult? It was.

But in the interests of progress we decided to build the wooden mould anyway on the basis that “it would be needed” and worry about the practicalities of suspending 40lb heaters 10ft in the air when we came to it. Details my dear, mere details.

So the mould construction continued apace while we turned our attention to furthering our understanding of the material…

3 comments  | Comments are closed



  1. Fred L. Watt says:

    Incredible design, was a good idea to put students to thinking

  2. Vinson Vaz says:

    Whoa! What an achievement. Am really amazed at the creation. And the adventure must have been really thrilling.

    Looking for further creations from you and your team.

    Happy building!


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