Norwegian startup Othalo envisions homes made from recycled plastic

Architect Julien de Smedt and Othalo are working in partnership with UN Habitat to produce homes out of plastic waste and provide sustainable and affordable housing for all.

by STIRworld Published on : Oct 23, 2020

The world is facing environmental danger like never before. Plastic waste stands to outlast and pollute the planet, while global issues of providing adequate housing facilities for all continue to add to the humanitarian crises.

Othalo, a Norwegian start-up, has envisioned a future that can build a way around both of these problems. Announcing a partnership with Julien De Smedt on World Habitat Day 2020, Othalo’s new patented technology allows for building elements to be made of 100 per cent recycled plastic. Othalo’s connection with UN Habitat Day works under the theme “Housing for ALL: A better Urban Future”. Talking about the initiative, the Assistant Secretary-General and Deputy Executive Director, United Nations Human Settlements Program (UN HABITAT), Victor Mokom Kisob, says, “As we celebrate the World Habitat Day 2020, UN-Habitat is partnering with Othalo to promote sustainable, adequate and affordable shelter for all”.

Conceptualised image for Othalo’s housing project | Building system based on recycled plastic | Othalo | STIRworld
Conceptualised image for Othalo’s housing project Image: Courtesy of JDSA

While the possibilities of the new technology are many, Othalo will begin with a focus on Sub-Saharan Africa to create affordable housing. The challenge that comes with traditional construction is that it is neither economically efficient nor sustainable. With a billion people already living in slums, the urgent need for low-cost housing is undeniable and predicted to increase to 360 million units by 2050, from its current number of 160 million units. Important actors of the world such as the UN, the World Bank, and nation states put housing crisis high on their agenda.

A typical building in Othalo’s new housing project | Building system based on recycled plastic | Othalo | STIRworld
A typical building in Othalo’s new housing project Image: Courtesy of JDSA

In the coming 18 months, Othalo promises to develop its first series of building elements and designs for low-cost homes project starting in Sub-Saharan Africa and expects to start mass production by 2022. The company’s founder, Frank Cato Lahti, has been working on developing the patented technology in partnership with experts in SINTEF and University in Tromsø since 2016, and has now partnered with architect Julien De Smedt and Young Global Leader of World Economic Forum, Silje Vallestad, for this new venture. Smedt, one of the principal architects of the project, expressed his keen desire to come up with new solutions which can incorporate manufacturing and local living. "In thinking new environments, we will set our focus towards the co-creation of living conditions in direct partnership with the local communities and end users. What we find particularly uplifting in our approach as a company and as architects is the desire to bridge the manufacturing world with the one of the local crafts and culture”.

  • Detailed concept image including solar panels | Building system based on recycled plastic | Othalo | STIRworld
    Detailed concept image including solar panels Image: Courtesy of JDSA
  • Top view of the community housing buildings | Building system based on recycled plastic | Othalo | STIRworld
    Top view of the community housing buildings Image: Courtesy of JDSA

This project looks at housing and community closely to analyse the best way to integrate local raw materials and the new technology, holistically. A typical 60 m2 Othalo house will recycle eight tons of plastic waste, and given the dire need for economical housing globally, the system amounts to a significant change in the overall state of the environment. It is estimated that with the amount of plastic waste produced, more than a billion houses can be built. The technology will extend its product line to making features like temperature controlled mobile storage units for food and medicine, refugee shelters, and larger modular buildings (schools, hospitals, etc.). The manufacturing of all Othalo systems is planned to take place onsite, which will also create opportunities for livelihoods for the people living there, in the process.

  • Diagram for the community design in the housing project | Building system based on recycled plastic | Othalo | STIRworld
    Diagram for the community design in the housing project Image: Courtesy of JDSA
  • The different typologies of buildings to be constructed | Building system based on recycled plastic | Othalo | STIRworld
    The different typologies of buildings to be constructed Image: Courtesy of JDSA

Project Details

Name: Building system based on recycled plastic waste
Architect: Julien De Smedt
Client: Othalo
Collaborators: Silje Vallestad, mlabs.no
Location: Worldwide, First focus Sub-Saharan Africa
Status: Ongoing

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