For most of us interested in green architecture, vinyl has long been thought of as an un-eco material. Remember the documentary Blue Vinyl? Then yesterday we were sent this winning design by four recent graduates from the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Zurich for a temporary pavilion for the 2015 Pan American Games in Toronto. "Tkaronto" is a flexible, mixed-use space under the cover of a helium balloon roof made out of "sustainable vinyl". To us that seems like an oxymoron, but maybe we're missing something? Can vinyl really be sustainable?
The semi-permanent pavilion, designed by Manuel Gross, Patrik Staub, Yannick Vorberg and Stefan Vetsch will be located in Toronto’s waterfront district serving as the awards pavilion for the games, and afterwards will be used as a flexible event space for the city. The pavilion’s location serves as a bridge between the city and the waterfront encouraging visitors to cross the major transport corridors and access pedestrian baths along the water. Inspired by the name “Toronto“, which roughly means “meeting place”, the pavilion serves as an interesting area under a huge balloon roof. Under the roof are a series of boxes and rooms that contain different programs.
Balloon trees are created from groupings of standard vinyl, helium-filled weather balloons held together with a PVC net and tethered to the ground with PVC coated wire ropes. Durable and long-lasting, all of the materials can be reused multiple times and easily relocated for other events. The pavilion also makes use of an existing silo facility on the waterfront, using the structure to draw people’s attention. The rooftop of the silo will also serve as a bar constructed out of steel and glass with a solar panel covered PVC membrane filled with helium to serve as a roof.
The competition was sponsored by the American Institute of Architecture Students, The Vinyl Institute and the Canadian Plastics Industry Association, and a requirement of the designs were that they include vinyl in them. Obviously the competition had a bias, so we’re still wondering whether vinyl can be considered as a sustainable material. Technically, it can be recycled and reused, and it certainly is quite durable, which are on the positive side. Inert unless burned, vinyl seems relatively non-toxic, but is produced with some very questionable materials and contains elements like chlorine, dioxins and phthalates. We’re certainly not vinyl experts and would love your thoughts if you want to weigh in.