Spanning Plastic


Plastic is one of the most pervasive materials on the planet. It is used in industrial production, everyday products, and all types containers. It is omnipresent in a variety of industries including construction. Plastic is malleable, durable, formable, pliable, water resistant, lightweight, and strong. It is arguably the most sophisticated and heavily engineered material we use on a daily basis. These traits, and the material’s ubiquity are the very things that make plastic a problem. Humans are generating more plastic trash than ever and using it at an alarming rate. The material is inexpensive and we consider it cheap and disposable. Very little plastic gets recycled.

HiLo Lab is interested in turning plastic into a viable material for construction. This research began as an exploration in vacuum forming (building off research on variable vacuum forming begun by HouMinn Practice).  Our team eliminated the need for formwork when it turned to inflation as a method of transformation. This approach offers advantages. Flat panels are transformed using heat and pressurized air. This eliminates the need for formwork and renders the fabrication process virtually waste free. The material used is light weight yet strong. Finally, the process provides a use for plastic waste and could provide incentive to collect discarded plastic, or motivation to recycle.

spanning plastic

Fig 1: Two sheets of very flexible 2mm thick styrene sheets are fused together using a mix of the same plastic dissolved with acetone. Once dry, the assembly is heated and inflated. The result is a structural sandwich capable of supporting an adult.
Fig 2: Structural analysis software generates a force pattern based on loading scenarios. These patterns inform the gluing of individual sheets.
Fig3: A pattern of glued dots creates a topography of structural arteries. This is the sheet holding up our intern in figure 1.
Fig 4: The back of sheet 1B (seen in Fig 1 and Fig 3). The nozzle used to inflate the sheets is visible at the center of the patterned surface.
Fig 5: A different sheet test. In this case the pattern was too sparse and the sheet ballooned, weakening the assembly.


Stuart Lodge, Sebastien Roy, Graham Entwistle, Blair Satterfield