boonserm premthada’s elephant dung bricks reveal hidden potential in thai village
boonserm premthada, who leads the bangkok project studio, is the recipient of THE DESIGN PRIZE 2021 for social impact. his latest work, elephant dung bricks, follows the spirit of his award by proving how animal waste can be upcycled in a way that fosters cultural and economic values for local communities. the initiative took place in the kiu village of ban ta klang, thailand, a region known for its domesticated elephants.
their waste, then, is ‘now transformed into an innovative sculpture prototype that is more meaningful with value added. it is the first step in promoting the use of elephant dung […] through research and development. with potentials in art and architecture, this experimental material can be developed into an actual functioning structure — proving how natural resources can be upcycled in a way […] that maximizes the benefits of the natural resource,’ elaborates the architect.
all images courtesy of boonserm premthada
a four-step process: collecting, mixing, molding, and drying
premthada created the brick prototypes in collaboration with ‘mahouts’ (elephant riders) and local workers. as a first step, a mahout collects unwanted dry dung and brings it to a dedicated workshop where men mix the waste with cement and water. once ready, the mix is injected and smoothed into molding trays using wooden sticks. and when the molds harden into brick, workers flip the tray to take them out and collect them in a specific spot.
to ensure that the mixture remains intact, workers water the bricks for seven days straight. after that, the stack is left to dry for three weeks before using it as construction material. specifically, the architect will use the elephant dung bricks as part of the elephant theater for the 2022 biennale of landscape and architecture in versailles.
the kiu village is known for its domesticated elephants
that said, one question still pends: what makes elephant dung such a great resource in architecture? according to premthada, elephants consume 200-300 kg of plant-based food per day — making their dung rich in fiber which, in turn, helps with the durability of the bricks. moving forward, the architect hopes to expand the potential of his sustainable, low-cost, and socio-economical initiative. indeed, bangkok project studio most often useshandmade bricks to create jobs and generate income for local people. unskilled workers become sapient artisans and actively participate in the projects.
close-up of the elephant dung bricks
once molded and ready, the bricks are stacked and left to dry for three weeks
manually mixing the dung with water and cement
workers use a wooden stick to even out the mold and remove excess mixture
dry dung is rich in fiber, which helps with make the bricks more durable
premthada is the social impact winner of THE DESIGN PRIZE 2021
name: elephant dunk bricks
designer: boonserm premthada
location: kiu village of ban ta klang, thailand,
material: dung, water, cement
collaborators: mahouts (elephant riders), local workers
MEET ALL THE 2021 GOLDEN MADONNINA AWARD WINNERS
THE DESIGN PRIZE winners of the golden madonnina awards across 10 interdisciplinary categories:
IN THE ARTISTIC REALM | BEST CURATOR | BEST DESIGNER | SOCIAL IMPACT | BEST EXHIBITION | BEST COMMUNICATION | EXPERIMENTATION | DESIGN NEWCOMER | DISTRIBUTION | LIFETIME ACHIEVEMENT.
THE DESIGN PRIZE is an annual award program that celebrates excellence on a global scale. initiated in 2017 and curated by designboom, with patronage by the city of milan, THE DESIGN PRIZE recognizes both the extraordinary achievements and little sparks of beauty and delight that have emerged over the past 12 months.