About 5,000 years ago, our ancestors built Stonehenge out of stones they likely hauled for hundreds of miles. This year, our ancestors’ descendents built Stonehenge 2.0—out of 16,000 recycled plastic bottles.
The Plastic Monument, as the installation is called, sits in a southern Milan neighborhood, where it was unveiled mid-October. Designed by London architecture firm Vatraa, the “monument” was modeled after the Great Trilithon of Stonehenge, but instead of using stones, the architects wrapped three giant piles of plastic bottles in wire meshes and stacked the forms.
The installation is the result of a 2019 competition by Young Architects Competition that was part of National Geographic’s “Planet or Plastic?” campaign to raise awareness about the impact of plastic pollution. It can take about 20 years for plastic bags, 200 years for plastic straws, and up to 500 years for plastic toothbrushes to decompose. The Plastic Monument is made up of locally sourced recycled plastic bottles—left untouched, the sculpture would likely still be standing 450 years from now.
Armed with those facts, the architects had a vision of their great, great grandchildren finding a plastic bottle or a plastic toothbrush. “Our ancestors left us real assets like the pyramids, the Colosseum, or Stonehenge, but part of our legacy might be plastic waste,” says Bogdan Rusu, a founding partner at Vatraa. First, the team considered re-creating one of the Egyptian pyramids, then the Agora of Athens, but Stonehenge materialized as the “purest form of construction.”
At 21-feet-tall, the monument is just a bit shorter than the original. The architects couldn’t build foundations into the ground, so the monument sits on two solid steel blocks. Above it, the three “pillars” are in fact hollow structures with an 8-inch-thick skin made of plastic bottles. Each pillar is wrapped in wire mesh, the surface of which was sculpted to add the kind of texture that a stone pillar might show, based on a preexisting 3D model of the Great Trilithon.
The Stonehenge analogy is both striking and devastating. The shape of the monument is comforting and familiar, yet its contents are unsettling. And that’s the point. “We want for [people] to ask themselves, ‘Do I care about the legacy I’m leaving to my grandchildren?’” asks Rusu. “If the answer is ‘yes,’ what would a person that cares about their legacy do in this particular situation?”
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