The Plastiki launches in Spring 2010 on a 7,500-mile route from San Francisco to Sydney “The thing is not to make plastic the enemy, but to reassess how we use, dispose, and reuse it – David de Rothschild, National Geographic Visiting Fellow and founder of Adventure Ecology

“As we get more and more urban we’re going to have be more clever with our waste stream.” – Nathaniel Corum, Plastiki Design Team, National Geographic News

The Plastiki design brief calls for an off-grid habitation – a house in essence – that would function as the cabin for a catamaran. The middle of the Pacific Ocean is the ultimate off-grid site. At Architecture for Humanity (AfH), we are always searching for prototypes, systems and materials that have broad relief applications. As the Plastiki is literally composed of re-purposed materials and off-grid systems, anything we learn through the boat design/build process carries over into our housing and systems initiatives.

Innovation is challenging. The biggest challenge here was adapting a new material system (srPET) for what promises to be a demanding voyage. The Plastiki will literally float on post-consumer bottles nested within a re-purposed plastic panel system. The major challenge of naval design more generally is to reconcile the often contradictory demands of what makes a boat perform well and what people need on an extended voyage. Plastiki back safely from her maiden voyage.

The adoption of the egg as a generative form is a clear example of ‘biomimicry;’ that is to say, looking to nature for design solutions. In this case, a strong shape was needed to handle wave and storm forces during the voyage. The design of the Plastiki cabin is informed by the shells of several long-term earth residents. Turtle shells, Horseshoe Crab armor, Dinosaur plating, and eggs all contributed to the overall form, fused plates and folds that comprise the cabin shell geometry.

Working with design team members, we are integrating waste and water systems into the cabin. The cabin shell is our primary source for collecting rainwater, which will be filtered and stored. Solar photovoltaic panels are arrayed on the shell roof. Other energy exhibits, such as wind, water, and bicycle power are being situated on the deck along with modern-day ‘canoe gardens’ that echo the on-board gardens of ancient Polynesian mariners who brought staple plants and animals on voyages to ensure their sustainability. Plastiki will have a sprout farm and several garden features.

“In addition to the buzz-worthy 12,500 plastic bottles responsible for buoyancy, one of the most interesting aspects of the Plastiki’s design is the cabin – the ultimate off-grid structure. It’s constructed from self-reinforcing PET (srPET)—in one of its first major applications – which is, essentially, ground-up plastics melted down, then remade into fabric and foam. The process can repeat as many times as necessary, making the material’s lifecycle almost neverending. Nathaniel Corum, Outreach Director at Architecture for Humanity and Plastiki’s cabin designer, forsees structures very similar to this touching ground and as first-response disaster pods that can withstand the range of elements, potentially replacing fiberglass as a cost-competitive alternative in the marine, automotive, and design industries.

Here’s Nathaniel showing us around the cabin, where the Plastiki’s six- to eight-person crew will spend their time eating, working on the computer, socializing, cooking, and sleeping


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