Billboard Earthbag Project

Completion: 2008

Location: NA

Description: Winner of the SEGD (Society for Environmental Graphic Design) Juror Award, the Billboard Earthbag Project provides a new interpretation of sustainable environmental graphic design wherein the act of composition is simultaneously a gesture of sustainability. 

Earthbag construction uses conventional sandbags or sandbag tubes that are filled with local dirt and stacked to create barrel-vaulted or domed roof structures. Pioneered by architect Nader Khalili and promoted worldwide by other designers, earthbag building methods enable temporary or emergency shelters to be rapidly and inexpensively constructed following natural disasters. Because most conventional sandbags are fabricated from polypropylene, they are very vulnerable to UV rays and quickly begin to deteriorate when exposed to the sun. Consequently, earthbag shelters need to be plastered to maintain their durability during extended use.

The Billboard Earthbag Project envisions using billboard vinyl as an alternative material for earthbags. Polyvinylchloride (PVC) or vinyl, a virtually indestructible, UV-resistant material that cannot be incinerated because of the toxic gases it would emit, represents a substantial portion of the PVC in the world’s overburdened landfills. Because of its durability and imperviousness to the sun and other elements, billboard PVC is an ideal material for reuse.

The reuse of billboard vinyl in earthbag construction mitigates the impact of global warming in two ways. Transforming this landfill-bound material into another useful product helps lessen landfill overflow worldwide. It also eliminates the need to protect earthbags from UV rays, resulting in more robust emergency shelters that can be used longer to lessen the human suffering caused by natural disasters.

As a visual concept, each billboard shelter stands as a symbolic gesture of sustainability. Beyond its environmental benefits, the strategy of reusing billboard vinyl visually recontextualizes the nature of billboards, which are symbols of mass consumerism and a pervasive form of visual pollution in our world. This concept does not seek to generate imagery, but instead appropriates existing commercial imagery as a metaphor for global recycling and reuse.

Assembled together into a shelter, the earthbags create a dynamic and vibrant pattern of collaged images and text from around the world, dramatically suggesting a unified, international gesture of sustainability, hope, and humanitarianism.

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Jury Comment

“Jurors were intrigued by this project as an example of ‘cradle-to-cradle’ design pertinent to the signage industry. Utilizing intrinsic qualities of billboard PVC—UV resistant and near indestructible—this concept proposes the creation of dwellings from recycled material and imagery. The idea takes the recycling of billboards, street banners, and print graphics—already employed by art museums in the creation of second-use products—to another level. Truly inventive!“

Collaborator: Charles Houser