01 PLANET : What the packaging industry can tell us about building design?


We aim to explore what the packaging industry can teach us about building design. By learning from other industries, we can understand how different sectors solve problems allowing us to gain new insights and perspectives. A fundamental component of regenerative design.

The environmental challenge of packaging waste has grown exponentially over the decades putting pressure on manufacturers to address the unintended consequences of the historical linear packaging system. We can learn a lot from the decisions they have made. Whether its responding to material choice, consumer behaviour or innovation.

One size fits all is a myth

There is no unicorn sustainable material. The debate of plastic versus paper has been around for decades. Ironically, paper was the general choice for packaging over 60 years ago and was replaced by plastic to protect natural resources and save trees from widespread deforestation. Paper is now seen as the saviour of our oceans.

Focusing on single materials does not consider the systematic effect on our planet. We should consider vernacular materials to disincentivise the import of materials over long distances. Understanding the most appropriate material or selection of materials provides diversity and resilience to our decision making and allows us to make the best use of available materials.

It must be genuine

Regenerative design must be through tangible benefits not interpretation. Much like packaging claims such as “100% recyclable” or “zero waste”, we must avoid misleading symbology in our buildings. We must tackle the underlying issues and provide solutions that provide meaningful change rather providing a gloss to our existing systems.

Avoid mixing materials

When multiple materials are bonded together either through material composition or processing it makes reusing and recycling almost impossible. If we want to create a circular economy, we need to be thinking about how our materials can be reused and recycled at end of life. There is no point in creating a prefabricated façade to reduce material waste if the components can’t be disassembled and separated at end of life.

Be resourceful

Manufacturers have always been innovative in designing the most efficient packaging, striving to utilise as little material as possible. Rearranging products and materials into a more efficient configuration. Understanding where materials can have multiple uses without “mixing”. Providing both aesthetic and functional uses. Not just adding ‘filler’ to the box. The entire process – from construction to disassembly – needs to be considered.

The ‘unwrapping’ experience

When designing our buildings we need to think of the “unwrapping” experience. How many layers are needed and what function do they perform. How they interface with each other. Do certain layers need to be damaged to access others. We can think of our building as layers. Outer layers used for environmental protection and stability. Functional layers placed in the middle to give barrier properties to heat, moisture and light.

The milk bottle philosophy

Milk bottles don’t rely on new materials whether they be recycled or renewable. Glass has an almost endless reuse life, just requiring cleaning after each use. Can we reuse our existing building stock rather than creating new buildings. How can we make use of as much of the existing building without requiring deep retrofit or conversion. Or even more fundamentally, do we even need to build?

Focus on the future

We should embrace new forms of materials whether made from more regenerative alternatives or through innovative ways of making use of existing materials. Like packaging, our buildings and materials should evolve over time. We also need to understand how future consumer trends will change the way we build and operate our buildings. Researching and enabling the systems and structures that will enable a more regenerative lifestyle and construction.