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Solution of the Month

Lemons to Lemonade: Empty bottles inspire a young designer’s competition-winning bus shelter.

Aaron Scales
November 2010

By David Sokol

To find a bus stop in Lexington, Kentucky, normally you would have to squint. The city demarcates most of its stops merely by appending a sign to a telephone pole. Art in Motion, a part of the Blue Grass Community Foundation, is dedicated to improving these spaces, and by doing so with public art. Bottlestop, by designer Aaron Scales, is the fledgling group’s first attempt to shelter and enlighten transit riders.

Photo © Steve Patton
Bottlestop: competition-winning bus shelter, Lexington, Kentucky.
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When Art in Motion conducted the competition that would ultimately yield Bottlestop, Scales was a newly minted graduate of the University of Kentucky’s B.Arch program. Not unlike an eager pup, he first dreamed up a whizbang proposal in which a continuous ribbon would serve as the bus shelter’s seating, roof, and structure simultaneously. Then he paid a visit to the site. “It was really run down, and the project I had been developing in the confines of design was just irrelevant to the site and the users,” Scales says.

The bus stop also was strewn with discarded bottles of Ale-8-One, Kentucky’s famous soft drink. Scales realized he could fabricate the shelter partly from Ale-8-Ones. The design would still multitask, but now it would proselytize recycling while reinforcing local identity. “Basing the design on the material, it took a more conventional form. So it gradually educates people about design-centric thinking, rather than hitting them over the head with all the pomp and craziness that could be possible with design.”

Although he imagined assembling his winning entry from empties collected near the bus pickup, Scales introduced the Bottlestop design to Ale-8-One itself. The factory, he learned, tosses bottles during the production process—“they fall off the line or they don’t take bottle caps correctly”—and the company offered to clean and store these bottles until Scales began construction.

Now, 750 bottles are stacked within aluminum storefront frames, each green row secured to the next by structural silicone. The lowest and uppermost bottles in each column of Ale-8-Ones connect to the aluminum via a rubber piece normally used to mount engines. The aluminum frames are mechanically connected to a foundational internal steel structure that allows the entire shelter to withstand impacts.

To forge a more dynamic appearance and supply nighttime lighting, the expanses of green bottles are punctuated by series of frosted white bottles in which the Ale-8-One factory packages another beverage. Stacked horizontally, these bottles cantilever from the aluminum via the same rubber pieces (a small metal bracket also transfers the load of the whole pile to the frame). Yet inside each of these junctions hides an LED, the intensity of which is softened by the glass enveloping it.

Bottlestop began serving transit riders on Martin Luther King Day, 2009. Scales says it pays off well, since some visitors to a nearby affordable health clinic use Lexington’s bus system regularly. And, as luck would have it, Bottlestop is located immediately adjacent to the city’s recycling facility. That serendipity isn’t lost on Art in Motion. The organization, which continues to arrange competitions for “art shelters,” is making sustainability part of its platform: Its latest contest requests designs that incorporate vegetation.

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