Cardboard is perhaps the most vernacular engineered material today. Almost everyone has had interaction with cardboard and most have experimented in their own construction using cardboard. Remember that toy you got for Christmas when you were little and soon realizing that maybe making a fort out of the box would be more fun than actually playing with the toy? Me too. Well the beauty of this vernacular material is that anyone who has experimented with cardboard has the ability of seeing the potential from a box to inhabited space.
Corrugated cardboard has long been used in the shipping and packaging of things. Since its invention in England in 1856 to line tall hats, corrugation has been used to give rigidity to pieces which need to be shipped or moved about. Cardboard is made of 3 components, 2 sheets of liner sandwiching the corrugation otherwise called the fluting. The mild glue consisting of water and starch holds these three pieces together. Warm water and grinding the leftover cardboard into a pulp makes the recycling of cardboard extremely efficient, as well as the fact that each piece can be recycled up to 6 times.
Many have experimented with cardboard in the use of furniture. My own undergraduate interior design class designed cardboard chairs back in 2007. Despite a mess of a studio, it was an excellent way to learn ideas in building 1:1 as an early design student.
But perhaps more interesting than objects, are spaces built out of corrugated cardboard. Nothing, a Dutch advertising agency, looked to Joost van Bleiwijk and Alrik Koudenburg to design an office space in an empty apartment unit. The use of cardboard and no glue or screws fit the ad agency’s mission of creating something from nothing. The majority of the office can be disassembled and recycled, and as seen in this construction video, was extremely quick to build.
At a larger scale, Shiguru Ban’s Japan Pavilion in Hannover in 2000 had a goal to “either to recycle or reuse almost all of the materials that went into the building.” Though this project does not use corrugated cardboard, it does use a similar material, paper tubes which are joined by metal tape and clad in a PVC membrane which was necessary for fire safety.
As we move forward to newer, more sustainable building technologies, much can be learned from one which has been a staple to society for over 150 years. Whether for chairs and products, interiors, or even perhaps architecture itself cardboard has helped shape our world and our ability to see potential in space.
“How It’s Made” Cardboard Boxes
Nothing Cardboard Office by Joost van Bleiwijk and Alrik Koudenburg
Japan Pavilion by Shiguru Ban Architects