Papercrete is a medium most commonly utilized in the creation of Earthships. Papercrete, in its holistic form, is an alternative construction material constituted of paper pulp, aggregate (sand), and earthen clay.
Some folks add cement to this mixture for additional tinsel strength. As an artist concerned with the environmental repercussions of my studio-practice, I will promote this report to exclude the use of cement due to its contributions in greenhouse-gas buildup.
That being said, papercrete has incredible potential to create great work without causing planetary destruction! This oatmeal-like mixture can be cast in molds to make bricks or structures, applied to surfaces, and pulled as sheets. The mix gains its strength as it dries out in the sun.
Papercrete first appeared in US patents during the 1920’s. There is archival debate about the specific date, but its been nearly a century since the beginning of its uses in the US. At that point in history, paper was expensive to build with. Today it is seen as an opportunity for effective recycling and is reinforced with rebar in some instances for load-bearing.
Little research has been quantified to represent papercrete’s structural integrity in relation to building code. That, however, did not stop it’s resurgence in the Southwest during the 1980’s. As Ian Dille wrote for the Texas Observer in 2014, “ […] various individuals in Colorado, New Mexico, and Arizona independently rediscovered the process and began experimenting with papercrete.” Dille continues to summarize that, “[…] in a sense the papercreters were unified by location. they tended to live on the fringes of the grid or off it entirely. Most resided in jurisdictions with lax building codes, or no building codes at all, where they could build without restriction.”
The second generation of “papercreters” may have been geographically unified in their aversion to building codes, but were conceptually unified on a global scale with a vast historical lineage. Alex Wright, a team member of Watershed Materials, discusses parallel evidence of Ancient Egypt’s earthen construction tactics in his article Geopolymer Concrete, Egyptian Pryamids, and a New Way Forward for Sustainable Masonry. Data sediments to reveal that the massive pyramid blocks were cast in place. The durable substance was made of locally-sourced earthen materials and poured into wooden molds, where they would sit as they baked in the sun.
Wright states, “[…] the Egyptians appear to have pioneered a geoploymer concrete that lasted throughout the history of modern humanity made from abundant common earthen materials found nearly everywhere on the planet. Compare that to the concrete we make that lasts half a century and comes with a disastrous carbon footprint.” Wright extends this notion of refection as he continues to re-imagine the potential for the future of building.
By revisiting humankind’s universal heritage of composite-construction methods with naturally occurring materials, we begin to unfold the limitless potential for cleaner making. I believe that papercrete may be an ideal vehicle for environmentally-concerned investigations.
Papercrete is lightweight and strong. Which makes it easy to move, store, and ship from studio to gallery. Artists have utilized this material in conceptual conversation about the human relationships to the building upon earth. Oscar Tuazon describes this “outlaw architecture” as a “physical […] experience of balance,” in his artist bio for the Luhring Augustine gallery.
Tuazon utilizes papercrete with his “I Can’t See” series, in which the medium exists as it is contained within its wooden flask. The works feature inclusions of larger recycled paper scraps. Tuazon may be discussing the blinding clutter of consumption yet simultaneously re-invisions its potential condensing via its repurposing.
Highlighting the possible potential for the future of our artistic and environmental interrelation is critical for sustainable studio practice. In light of the earth’s suffered damages, it feels unkind to turn a blind eye in the anthropocene. So let us take notice, make changes, and adapt our modes of creation.
Let’s look to the world of paper-art and re-iamgine how it can stand to aid in that. Paper-making and book arts overflow into the realm of sculpture, but papercrete could break the levee. Dissolving boundaries between artistic disciplines and building bridges from practice to concept, papercrete holds weight in the potential for our future from our past.
Physarum Polycephalum is an organism, commoly known as Slime Mold. It is infact not a mold at all, but a single-celled organism that joins together with other cells to form a mass super-cell maximize its resources. Within one slime mold, one might find thousands to millions of nuclei, working as one. Slime mold is found in the woods, eating rotten greenery.
Heather Barnett is one of the many artists along with scientists who have chosen to create artwork and study study slime mold. When Barnett was fist gifted slime mold, the only instructions she was given was that it liked it dark and damp, and its favorite food is oats. A living organisms like this mold was nothing uncommon to Barnett, who is an artist who has worked with many other plants and bacteria. Barnett would grow the mold in her studio on a black paper to bring out its gorgeous yellow colors, which would show its trail it left behind very vividly. She began with experimenting with its diet and observing how it grows and networks. She observed the chain it made between food sources, and the trails it would leave behind, showing where it had been. The slime acted as thought it had a brain and would move on from one petri dish when all its resourced were depleted. Below you can see the mold on its food source, and the white areas being the trails its leaving behind.
Now slime mold only grows about one centimeter and hour, but with a time lapse, its movement can be easily observed. Barnett was interested in how once the slime mold would finish eating a pile of oats, it would go off to map its surrounding territory, as if it moved with intention.
A team of scientists at Hokkaido University in Japan studied the mold by filling a maze with the slime. The slime mold worked together by forming one mass cell, filling up the maze completely. They then introduced oats at two points in the maze, and the mold proceeded to form a commotion between the food, solving the maze. There were four possibly solutions through the maze, yet every time they performed this experiment the slime mold would find the sourest and most efficient route. After this and a couple other experiments, they deduced that slime mold was able to learn and grow. One last experiment was performed: the slime mold was placed on a empty substrate covered in oats. The slime mold begins with expanding out in a branching pattern. As the slime mold grows, it finds the food, and forms a connection with itself and keeps searching for food. Twenty Six hours later, the mold had formed a strong network between the oats. Infact the oats were representative of the city of Tokyo and its surrounding railway stations. The slime mold had re-created the Tokyo transportation network. A system that too 100 of years for humans to develop, took the slime mold 26 hours.
This organism is much more than thousands of nuclei working together, it is a complex system that is living, breathing, and learning. It can understand its environment and use that to map out systems that would take humans years to accomplish. The hopes are that it will be implemented into urban planning to create more efficient transportation systems. It can also be used to create beautiful artwork. Here is a piece done by an artist using glow-in-the-dark slime mold.
Barnett, H. (2014). What humans can learn from semi-intelligent slime. Retrieved February 13, 2018, from https://www.ted.com/talks/heather_barnett_what_humans_can_learn_from_semi_intelligent_slime_1/transcript#t-435001
Heather Barnett's Page. (n.d.). Retrieved February 13, 2018, from http://slimoco.ning.com/profile/HeatherBarnett
The Physarum Experiments. (2017, April 08). Retrieved February 13, 2018, from http://heatherbarnett.co.uk/work/the-physarum-experiments/
Some imaged from Google.
Impacts of Paper
Paper is a material that is present in almost every aspect of life. It is how humans often communicate and share information in the form of books or paperwork, how many food products are packaged, is a substrate for various forms of art, and so many more uses. With millions of tons of paper being produced each year, how is paper impacting the environment? The process utilizes gallons upon gallons of water as well as enormous amounts of plant matter. How has papermaking remained sustainable, or was it ever sustainable in the first place?
Industrial production of paper obviously wastes much more than an individual. Creating larger quantities of paper requires more energy, more water, and more pulp with less concern about reuse of water or concern of waste. The quality of the final product and the money made is the priority. Within the processes of industrial papermaking, I will cover water usage, habitat disruption, a little bit about plant usage, different paper products, and recycling. How do all these different elements of paper affect the environment, and how can we change the negative impact?
Paper was first created in Ancient Egypt around 3700-3200 BC, and ever since it has been an essential part of human life. Papermaking techniques we know of today were developed in China in 105 AD. The paper mill was introduced in 1282, which innovated the production of paper. However, it wasn’t until the Industrial Revolution that the mass production of paper was made possible and costs were significantly reduced. Over the centuries all over the world, the process and materials used to make paper evolved. This increased the demand for paper-based products and led to the paper and pulp industry we experience today. In the last two centuries, advances in papermaking technologies, increase in global commerce, and affordability of paper products have led to alarming increases in paper consumption, which, unbeknownst to most individuals, has caused significant environmental damage. The global demand for paper product is significant, with more than 350 million tons produced annually in 2010. Generating over $200 billion annually, the paper products industry is big business, and it is only getting bigger. (The Environmental Sustainability of Paper)
What are the environmental impacts of the papermaking process? The first impact is the source. Wood is the most commonly used source for industrial papermaking. Deforestation occurs to obtain paper pulp, and is a critical environmental concern. One of the leading contributing factors to endangered wildlife species is deforestation. Environmental impacts of deforestation include: energy consumption for logging, the destruction of natural ecosystems, reduced water quality, soil erosion, diminished habitats for plants and animals, and the elimination of old-growth forests. Reforestation is becoming more common, but finding a sustainable solution should be the main focus. (The Environmental Sustainability of Paper)
In addition to deforestation, another impact of industrial papermaking is pollution. The process of making paper itself is toxic. Chemicals are found in most papermaking processes. Pesticides used in the forest and a variety of chemicals are used in the process to create pulp. Some of the commonly used chemicals are chlorine, mercury, absorbable organic halogens, nitrates, ammonia, phosphorus, and caustic soda, each of which damages the environment differently.
The primary element used when making paper is water. According to the EPA, the paper industry is the largest user of industrial process water per ton of end product. Paper producers are becoming more competitive for water supplies as water shortages are becoming more common. In addition, the paper industry is the fourth largest contributor to toxins on surface water.
How can we make papermaking more sustainable? The impacts of paper become interconnected. If we use less paper products, then the need for virgin paper would decline. Less demand for paper would equal less paper made. Sustainable forestry practices are required to ensure that virgin paper is available at a reasonable cost, and so that habitats are not destroyed. The forest industry is establishing sustainable forestry initiatives, which emphasize natural resources and wildlife conservation, prompt reforestation, and a deeper awareness of environmental responsibility and stewardship. (The Challenges of Sustainable Papermaking) Utilizing non-wood fibers, such as bamboo, reeds, or cereal straw, would also decrease deforestation. In addition to sustainable forestry practices, recovering paper as a raw material is important as well. Papermaking is one of the leading recycling industries. Fiber can be reused up to seven times before the fibers become too weak. Utilizing these two strategies will lead to a more sustainable papermaking future.
As the world becomes more and more digital, somehow we have increased our paper consumption. Hopefully as environmentally aware companies and approaches grow, so will our approach to the paper making process. As the world goes digital, the need for more paper should decrease, as well as the environmental impacts.
Blanco, Angeles, Carlos Negro, Concepcion Monte, Elena Fuente, and Julio Tiger. "The Challenges of Sustainable Papermaking." Environmental Science and Technology (2004): 414A-20A.
Smith, Richard. "The Environmental Sustainability of Paper." Graduate Studies Journal of Organizational Dynamics 1.1 (2011): n. pag.