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Bottle schools – sustainable green technologies

On 10 January 2011, in News, by Andrew Bennett
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‘It will take a lot of time, a lot of breaking down barriers and walls but hopefully we can release the genie in the bottle of sustainable green technologies for the Philippines sometime soon…’ By RACHEL C. BARAWID, Manilla Bulletin, January 6, 2011, 12:18pm

SOCIAL ENTREPRENEUR Illac Diaz leads the building of Asia’s first plastic and glass bottle school that not only promotes sustainable architecture, but also addresses the shortage of classrooms in the country. Photo by PINGGOT ZULUETA.

MANILA, Philippines — Despite aggressive campaigns on recycling and sustainable development, not everyone is still convinced to go green. Tons of garbage continue to pollute the environment and harm man’s health.

But Illac Diaz, social entrepreneur and proponent of sustainable, alternative architecture, is steadfast in proving that recycling is the way to go, even in solving the dire need for more classrooms in the country today.

In his latest project called the Bottle Schools, Diaz shows that with much creativity, imagination, and out-of-the-box thinking, a classroom or even an entire school may be built out of discarded soda and alcoholic beverage bottles!

Educational and environmental

“Every year we lack about 7,000 classrooms. This shortage is not only caused by the growing student population, but also by the classrooms that are being damaged by strong typhoons every year. Your soda, on the other hand, takes only about seven minutes to drink, but the plastic bottle will be a problem for us for 700 years or more. So we thought of this new and sustainable solution that is both educational and environmental,” explains Diaz, executive director of MyShelter Foundation.

Diaz reveals that the idea to use plastic and glass bottles in construction is a borrowed concept mainly from professors at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MITIT) and from several other people abroad.

The bottle wall technique, says John Ong, architect and professor at the University of Santo Tomas College of Architecture, has been in use for centuries to bring in more light to the building. The Colosseum in Rome, and many structures in Europe, are fine examples that made use of the bottle wall technique.

For Asia’s first plastic and glass bottle school in San Pablo, Laguna, Diaz also wanted to promote passive lighting, at the same time, produce a strong earthquake and typhoon-proof structure. “Because a school should be really sturdy and durable. It is a place for learning but also a refuge in times of calamities,’’ he reasons out.

The process

To make the classroom walls, 1.5-and 2-liter plastic bottles are filled with liquefied adobe, an ingredient used in building old Spanish churches. This material is supposed to be four times stronger than hollow blocks.

Plastic bottles are then stacked one on top of the other. PVC pipes and cement are placed in between rows of the bottles to make the wall sturdier and to allow air to come in. The bottle wall is then painted.

Diaz says human hair is also mixed with the cement as a fiber filler to hold the cement together. This technique is said to have 96 percent less cracking rate.

The back wall of the classroom, meanwhile, is made of Gmelina and rice husk.

Glass bottles, on the other hand, are stacked to form the classroom facade. Diaz says glass bottles are a good alternative to expensive glass panes as they also bring in light to the room.

For the roof, galvanized corrugated metal is used, but old tetra packs from juices will be incorporated later on because of its reflective silver component that can also help bring in more light.

The classrooms will only use natural light from the sun, through the Solatube Daylighting Systems. The solar tubes bring in ambient light from the outside but not the heat. It has a cooling system and a dimming feature. Diaz says this alternative lighting is already widely used globally. In the country, only the Holy Angel Academy in Pampanga and some industrial companies have the technology.

The first of the eight classrooms in the school was recently presented to members of the media during the project launch in San Pablo, Laguna. The entire school, which sits on a 560-square meter land, is expected to be finished by February this year.

“We want this school to be 95 percent made of recycled materials. In an area where there is limited resources, hopefully the lighting systems will generate more savings and translate to more money for teachers, more textbooks. By using passive lighting and passive materials, we can build more, we can build bigger and cheaper, and empower people to use waste materials as the solution to problems,” Diaz notes.

Getting support

No matter how novel and inspiring the idea sounds, Diaz admits he had difficulty pitching the bottle school project initially to local government officials. He says some even laugh at the idea behind his back.

“It’s never an easy thing for people to think of alternative construction. So I don’t blame them. It’s really very hard to get support if it has never been seen before, if people don’t know what you’re talking about. You really need to be here, to kick the walls, to see how tough they are before you can actually believe it,” he adds.

Fortunately, he found a partner in Laguna Governor ER Ejercito and board member Angelica Jones. Soon enough, the local government donated the land and construction began for the school which will be for the province’s poor students.

Diaz organized a fun run in June last year to help raise funds for the construction of the classrooms. Apart from the running fee, the participants were also asked to donate at least two bottles.

With the growing support that he is getting, Diaz is set to replicate the project in Bantayan island, Cebu and in Davao early this year.

“By replicating the Bottle Schools in other areas, the imagination that it’s not possible is superceded by the reality of its application. So once we show that it is possible, then it will just keep on growing independently, almost viral. We really want to look for people-powered viral technologies on shelter that people can get from us and copy on their own. We want people to access new technologies and build it themselves, and where after disasters they won’t have to wait for money to come in and instead start with what they have,” he explains.

Diaz stresses that they are not only building a school but a movement where other inventors will join the system and come up with their own ideas of appropriate technologies for the country to benefit from.

“We’re trying to break the mold slowly. It will take a lot of time, a lot of breaking down barriers and walls but hopefully we can release the genie in the bottle of sustainable green technologies for the Philippines sometime soon,” he says.

MyShelter Foundation has been at the forefront of alternative and sustainable architecture for years. Among its projects are the earthquake-proof earthen schools, bamboo schools, coral walls development, and the peanut shelters for peanut farmers and processors. Its latest endeavor is the Design Against the Elements project. The global architectural design competition for students and professionals, aims to find a solution to climate change through the development of a sustainable and disaster-resistant housing for communities in tropical urban settings.

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