01 Miniwiz used their own Polli-Brick, a self-interlocking, translucent “brick” made from 1.5 million recycled PET bottles, as the primary building material for the EcoARK; 02 Polli-Brick is put together to form modular 3-D honeycomb self-interlocking structure; 03 Re-Case has room for an iPhone and a bankcard, and is textured to relieve stress
An innovative multi-national crew of designers is taking out the trash – and turning it into building blocks.
In most countries, landfills increase in size daily and incinerators burn around the clock in humanity’s collective effort to dispose of commodities once thought of as essential. On the small but heavily populated island of Taiwan, the members of an innovative design company happened to peer inside their office trashcans, notice that they were full of empty plastic bottles, and stumbled onto the idea that these thirst-quenchers could one day become the building material for spaces in which people could shop, work, eat and sleep.
That company is Miniwiz Sustainable Energy Development Co, founded in March 2006 by managing director Arthur Huang, an architectural graduate of US universities Cornell and Harvard. The seven co-founders are no less well-educated or wellknown, and include Chris Fay, the CEO of Saatchi & Saatchi Taiwan. Miniwiz boasts eight architects, three industrial designers, one mechanical engineer and one materials engineer, all of whom contribute in some way to the design of each of the company’s products. “We believe our eclectic mix of cross-disciplinary, multi-national staff members is one of the reasons for our success in innovation,” says Huang.
Miniwiz places an emphasis on its ability to turn trash materials into consumer products that balance visual appeal with sustainable use. The company’s Polli-Brick, born of the inside of an overflowing bin, is arguably their most renowned product, and the item that epitomises their mission. “Miniwiz isn’t just a design company; it’s a sustainable development company,” explains Huang. “We are dedicated to finding solutions that are truly sustainable in resource, design, and execution.”
The Polli-Brick, an alternative building material made from 100 percent recycled PET (Polyethylene Terephthalate Polymer) sourced from locally discarded plastic drink bottles, was an idea that the company formally developed when commissioned in 2008 to build the EcoARK, a five-storey high exhibition centre destined to be the centrepiece of the Taipei International Floral Exposition, held in the city from November 2010 to April 2011. It took Miniwiz only a couple of weeks to source the 1.5 million bottles required to create all the bricks it needed to build the 130m long, 48m wide and 26m tall structure, which was completed in April 2010. “The creation of Polli-Brick and the concept of the EcoARK were [developed] to address two huge issues our environment currently faces: plastic and architectural problems,” says Huang.
The eight-sided bricks, marketed as a replacement for traditional curtain wall systems, are lightweight, translucent, and because they interlock they do not need any adhesives to keep them together. The interior of each brick is hollow, and the eight litres of air trapped inside acts as an insulator, regulating the interior temperature of a room. The material they are made of can be sourced locally, and manufacturing processes can happen close to construction sites, reducing the need for carbon-costly transportation of building materials. Through the Polli-Brick, Miniwiz is “taking the plastic problem and turning it into a profitable solution for the architectural problem, creating a sustainable win-win situation.” Though the EcoARK is no more (it was dismantled at the close of the Floral Expo), Miniwiz have had a number of commissions to design and build substantial commercial complexes using Polli-Bricks, including a new Pacific Department Store in Chengdu, China.
Polli-Tea was a limited edition spin-off product sold during the Floral Exposition in Taipei, and was aimed at giving consumers a lesson in sustainability and reminding them to “reduce, reuse, recycle”. Miniature Polli-Bricks were filled with flavoured tea and sold as bottled drinks. Once empty, the bottles could be stacked just like the full-size versions, and consumers were encouraged to upcycle them by turning them into lights or other home items. Polli-Bricks have also made an appearance on the water. In March 2011, the company used them in the construction of a boat made entirely of recycled materials. The Polli-Boat set sail in Taipei as part of a project initiated by the National Geographic Channel in celebration of World Month. “We wanted to show that Polli-Brick is not only an architectural material, but that it can also be used in different formats of design,” Huang explains.
Polli-Brick might be the company’s most publicised product, and it is arguably their most innovative, but it is by no means their only one. Re-Wine and Re-Case are two newer products made from Polliber, a composite manufacturing material created by Miniwiz from post-consumer thermoplastics and waste from rice farming. Once the last drop has been drained from a bottle of wine fitted snugly inside its Re-Wine packaging, the carry case can be flipped on its side and placed on the top of the empty bottle. With the addition of a lowwatt LED light, the empty wine bottle, rather than heading for the dump, becomes an energy-efficient desk lamp made from entirely recycled materials. Re-Case, also made from Polliber, snaps around your iPhone 4, leaving a smidge of room in which to slot in a credit or bank card. It has a textured case, the “soothing tactile sensations” of which, according to the product brochure, “counteract the stress of the 21st century lifestyle.”
As a company, Miniwiz happily admits that they are realistic about the world in which we live today, and they are aware that social perception and habit does not change overnight. They see consumer education as part of the solution and through their products they try to provide customers with easy access to sustainable practices. The company is also involved in education at a formal level and will be co-teaching a course in “lifecycle design” at Harvard Graduate School of Design in the near future. “Human desire for a better life and economic growth has led to a consumer culture which causes many of our environmental problems,” says Huang. “Miniwiz understands these are the realities of the world, and it is our philosophy to help the world to attain these goals while remaining sustainable.” miniwiz.com