6 Unique Structures Made with Unusual Building Materials

Designers have looked past wood and steel and embraced rubber, cork and even ice.

Sure, the price of lumber could increase due to a tariff recently imposed on Canadian softwood lumber — but who needs lumber, anyway? Check out these one-of-kind structures from around the world featuring all manner of outside-the-box materials.

Cargominium, Columbus, Ohio

Building small spaces out of shipping containers is not new, but large-scale applications of this building method are, which makes the 25-unit apartment building in downtown Columbus noteworthy. The structure is made up of 54 5-ton containers. The low-income residences will be 640 square feet each. As a bonus, construction crews reported that assembly of the containers took only a week, while traditional framing would have taken up to three months.

Zero-Waste House, Kamikatsu, Japan

The environmentally conscious town of Kamikatsu, Japan, upped its recycling game last year by building the Kamikatz Public House out of reclaimed building materials. Most notable is its 26-foot-high wall constructed out of windows from abandoned houses in the area. The building also features wallpaper made from old newspapers and a chandelier made from recycled bottles. But there are some newer elements in the building as well. For example, designers incorporated a carbon-neutral radiation heater for heat in the winter.

Portugal Pavilion at the Expo 2010 Shanghai

Portugal produces about half of the world's cork, so it made sense that its entry for Expo 2010 Shanghai incorporated it. But designers went one better — the entire pavilion is covered in it. The cork was heated with steam, causing the particles to expand and then bind together. The resulting material is an excellent insulator and environmentally friendly, though it is subject to damage over time. For Expo 2010 Shanghai, the Portugal Pavilion took home a design award. Reportedly, visitors sliced off pieces of the façade to take home as souvenirs. 

EcoARK, Taipei China

The Far Eastern Group took recycling to the next level in their entry for the 2010 Taipei International Expo. They used 1.52 million plastic bottles to build an environmentally friendly, earthquake- and hurricane-resistant structure. At the core of the design are POLLI bricks —recycled polymer bottles that can be interlocked and used as a building material in a variety of structures.

The Soundhouse, University of Sheffield, Sheffield, England

Serving as both an insulator from the world outside and a hint of the artistic explosion going on inside, the Soundhouse practice and music recording facility at the University of Sheffield is almost completely encased in rubber. The exterior consists of four half-ton sheets of rubber, vulcanized offsite, fitted to the building like the skin of a drum and decorated with steel studs.

IceHotel, Jukkasjärvi, Sweden

Back in the 1980s locals in this small Swedish village carved out ice and molded it into an art gallery. It proved to be a popular attraction. Some visitors asked to be able to stay overnight, and the IceHotel was born. The hotel is rebuilt every winter from huge ice blocks that are harvested from a nearby river then molded. The final room design is left to artists chosen through a submission process.