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The Dezeen guide to plastic in architecture, design and interiors

Thinking of using plastic in your project? Our latest Dezeen guide includes 11 types of plastic commonly used in architecture, design and interiors.

via Dezeen

Thinking of using plastic in your project? Our latest Dezeen guide includes more than 11 types of plastic commonly used in architecture, design and interiors, with links to hundreds of projects for inspiration.

Plastics are among the most versatile materials in existence. Defined by their plasticity, they have long carbon chains called polymers at their backbone and can be moulded, extruded or cast into any desired shape from films to textile fibres.

They can be divided into thermosetting plastics, which never soften once moulded, and thermoplastics, which can be melted and reshaped, making them more suited to recycling.

Plastics “are a co-product of fossil fuels”

Although certain plastics – such as rubber, which is derived from the rubber plant – occur naturally, most modern plastics are synthetic and more than 99 per cent are derived from fossil fuels.

This helps to make plastics more affordable than most other materials and sees them used to create millions of tonnes of single-use items every year.

“Part of why plastics are so cheap is that they are a co-product of fossil fuels,” explained designer Charlotte McCurdy, who has created a bioplastic made from algae.

“Petroleum or natural gas is pumped out of the ground and at the refinery, it is broken up into different lengths of molecule and catalytically cracked into useful monomers.”

79 per cent of all plastic is dumped in landfills

This refining process yields not just fuels such as gasoline and kerosene but also chemical byproducts such as ethylene and propylene, which are the most important feedstocks used to create plastics.

Once discarded, 79 per cent of all plastic is dumped in landfills or in the environment, where it will remain for thousands of years. Although this contributes to pollution, it also helps to sequester the carbon contained in the materials and prevents it from entering the atmosphere.


Also known as glass-reinforced plastic or GRP, fibreglass is made by taking thin glass filaments, either loose or woven into cloth, and encasing them within a petrochemical resin.

The composite material is lighter and stronger than steel while being cheaper and more flexible than carbon fibre. As a result, fibreglass is used to create products where performance is key, including skis as well as the rotor blades of helicopters and wind turbines.

Architects have made use of the material to create tall, lightweight structures such as BIG’s 2016 Serpentine Pavilion (above), which was formed from 1,900 translucent blocks, and a tubular installation designed by Neri Oxman and erected by a swarm of autonomous robots.

See projects featuring fibreglass ›


Acrylic is a catchall term used to describe a range of different resins derived from acrylic acid. These can be suspended in water to create paint or spun into fibres that can be used to make clothing or as precursors for carbon fibre.

When cast into sheets, the thermoplastic is known as plexiglass and used as a low-cost, shatter-resistant alternative for glass due to its exceptional optical clarity. This application was pioneered during the second world war when it was used to form fighter jet windows and submarine periscopes.

More recently, English architecture firm HAL used giant plexiglass panels to form a 35-metre-high swimming pool bridge connecting two buildings in London (above) while designer Christophe Gernigon turned the material into suspended hoods for socially distanced dining.

Furniture made from acrylic can reflect light or disappear into its surroundings, as demonstrated by the see-through counter that Yota Kakuda created for Bake Kitasenju brasserie and Say Architects‘ ghostly interior for the Lika Lab boutique in Hangzhou.

See projects featuring acrylic ›

Read on >>>> Source: The Dezeen guide to plastic in architecture, design and interiors

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