Creating heaven from earth: Bentu experiments with material waste from Guangzhou Metro
Chinese design studio Bentu takes an environmentally conscious and experimental approach to materials by recycling waste products into progressive contemporary design pieces. Two of Bentu’s latest projects recycle rock and soil mined from the construction of Guangzhou Metro, an important development in China, for city furniture and everyday objects.
Guangzhou is one of China’s largest cities with a population of more than 14 million people. Construction of the Metro began in the early 1990s with the first line opening in 1997. Today, there is daily average traffic in excess of 7.55 million passengers.
From a cultural perspective, the Metro enables people of different ethnicities and geographies to come into contact with one another. It has an impact on personal experiences and redefines how the population access work, healthcare, education and leisure. But it also influences how the city develops, expands and transforms and as passengers travel underground there is a disconnect between them and the landscape.
The current construction of more than 200 underground sites has led to a large amount of waste, so Bentu has teamed up with Guangzhou Metro Museum to carry out design experiments using rock and soil discarded from the construction pits. The projects not only recycle disposed waste but are also intended to provide objects that can help people to re-establish a valuable connection with their land.
Bentu’s terrazzo bench seats for the Metro stations are made with sampling stones and large boulders, such as shale, sandstone and granite, excavated during tunnel construction. The terrazzo surfaces combine crushed rock mass with ultra-high-performance concrete for strength and stability.
Soil comprises the largest proportion of construction waste and its low fertility means that vegetation can’t grow. Bentu used red soil from the Panyu Square Station construction pit to create simple objects that can be used for a variety everyday purposes.
The studio’s primary objectives were to create a connection between people and the land they inhabit and move through, and to cause no harm to nature. The designers used easily degradable plant fibres with gelatinized minerals and a no-firing production process in order to reduce secondary damage. This approach means the objects retain the natural coarse beauty of the soil and they are fully degradable after use.
These projects – like all of Bentu’s work – are not only experiments in recycling disposed waste but are intended to bring attention and consideration to the cultural and environmental consequences of urban development, rather than simply the economic and political effects.