London Underground waste repurposed into tiles for tube stations

Designer Jeffrey Miller has created tiles for the London Underground utilizing the transit system’s personal waste, as a part of his final-year work at Central Saint Martins.

The From the Underground tiles are made utilizing two waste supplies produced both from the development or operation of the tube: London clay and iron oxide-rich mud.

London clay is the soil on which many of the metropolis is constructed and which is excavated throughout tunnel boring, whereas iron oxide mud is created by practice wheels as they grind in opposition to metal tracks day by day.

The From the Underground tiles are constituted of waste London clay

Miller’s clay tiles are forged in an artwork nouveau design that was already utilised in a number of the community’s older stations. Initially designed by Leslie Inexperienced, the architect behind most of the stations, the tile moulds have been loaned by the producer H&E Smith.

The spark for the undertaking got here when Miller was sitting on the Central line, listening to the loud screeching because the practice hurtled by means of one of many oldest sections of the railway.

Curious in regards to the byproduct of all that friction, he started his analysis and ultimately discovered a examine that recognized the primary part of the mud as iron oxide — a chemical compound that Miller, a practiced ceramicist, knew might be used to pigment glaze.

The mud is seen as a black substance on the practice tracks and different close by areas.

Close-up photo of the From the Underground tile by Jeffrey Miller
Iron oxide produced by the operation of practice tracks was used to pigment the glaze

Acquiring the mud, nevertheless, proved tough. With no collaborator at Transport for London (TfL) – the native authorities physique that runs the community – he needed to gather it himself, going from station to station with a vacuum cleaner.

“I did not vacuum the precise tracks, as a result of that was perhaps just a little bit too dangerous,” Miller informed Dezeen. “However I vacuumed the grooves on the platform proper earlier than you step onto or off the practice. A number of mud had collected in there.”

The mud was blended with contaminants reminiscent of filth and human hair, however the designer embraced the slight imperfections that this dropped at the glaze.

Photo of three small blocks of fired, glazed clay next to each other, in colours ranging from beige on the left to very dark brown in the middle to chocolate brown on the right
The clay and glazes required intensive testing to realize the suitable look

The concept to make use of London clay, in the meantime, arose by means of conversations Miller had with a geologist, who gave him a contact who labored on tunneling initiatives in London and will present waste-borehole samples filled with the clay.

The problem with utilizing the clay, Miller says, is that it took a variety of processing and testing to get it to a stage the place it might be used to make objects.

The processing concerned drying out the clay, crushing it, reconstituting it with water after which filtering out the non-clay particles earlier than mixing it collectively once more and testing the way it behaved when fired within the kiln.

“Working with wild clays is rewarding,” Miller stated. “Normally in ceramics, you do not actually get entry to this course of. And it is fairly good to be nearly filling in all of the gaps alongside the route of the creation of one thing.”

Miller says he undertook the From the Underground undertaking to replicate upon how supplies are used within the constructed atmosphere, usually with an “opaqueness” round their provenance. For tiles, the supplies are sometimes virgin assets obtained by means of open-pit mining.

“The entire crux of this undertaking was seeing how the underground, which is that this very unusual place for useful resource extraction, might be used for useful resource extraction,” he stated.

Photo of designer Jeffrey Miller sitting in his studio in front of a small wall of brown tiles he has made from London Underground waste
Designer Jeffrey Miller hopes his tiles may be utilized in tube stations sooner or later

“I really did not suppose once I began that it might be one thing that might be scaled up till I began engaged on it and realised the dimensions of the supplies which can be concerned,” he continued. “For the clay, you are coping with tons of and tons of of metric tonnes for an excavation of usable materials.”

“For the iron oxide, there’s 400 kilometres of observe alongside the Underground and it will get coated on this black stuff that they must get rid of fairly recurrently.”

Miller, who accomplished the undertaking as a part of his masters in Materials Futures at Central Saint Martins, is hoping to work with TfL to see his tiles really used within the London Underground sooner or later.

Through the use of the Leslie Inexperienced-designed mould, he has created a product that might theoretically be used to switch damaged tiles in station restorations.

Different current tile designs to have made use of waste materials have come from Snøhetta and Studio Plastique, who drew on recycled oven and microwave glass, and Kazakh designer Enis Akiev, who created a marbled impact with single-use plastics.

Pictures by Sarel Jansen.