Harvard Graduate School of Design
Material Ecologies Workshop
Critic: Jane Hutton
Year: 2015

Collaborators: Lara Mehling

Glass Soil: designing for the lifecycle of a secondary raw material

Glass is not a new material. In fact, its first human use dates back more than 5000 years. Its material and malleable composition, taking many forms, is unique and its properties have led to technological innovations in all realms of human life, among them the built environment. Drawing on a rich tradition of glass in architecture and landscape architecture, along a wide range in scales from the Crystal Palace to the hand-held Claude Glass, our investigation seeks to subvert the conventional use of the material as a pane or a vertical surface, a wall. As constants, however, remain the reflective and refractive abilities of glass to highlight the landscape; invisibility makes visible the immediate environment.

This project re-imagines the use of glass in contemporary landscape architecture by testing it as a ground material. Its light weight, water durability,and resistance to extreme temperatures make it an attractive alternative to other forms of gravel. And yet, as an aggregate, it is equally porous, fit for filtration, and a structural material that endures compaction. It is recycled and lasts forever. While glassphalt is gaining popularity, we are interested in testing glass aggregates as the primary material, rather than as a secondary ingredient. Our aim is to harness the properties of glass directly by mixing it with soil organic matter. By using existing standards for grain size (silt, sand, gravel, etc.), glass performance can easily be measured, particularly under the guise of a structural soil. While this opens up a wide range of properties to test, our research begins with looking at water retention, compaction, and general ground stability, and eventually how these factors may qualify glass-soil as a proper growing medium.

sample palettes looking at porosity, percolation, water retention, and ground moisture

compiled research tracking glass through its material procsses of extraction, disposal, recycle as well as the sociocultural meanings of the medium through a historical look at legislation and cultural value

© Carly Gertler 2017