There are literally thousands of uses for unwanted cardboard boxes and tubes, but could you imagine living in a house made of them?
You may have built a castle out of cardboard boxes and some great tube creations with your kids, but it is doubtful that you have even imagined projects on the scale of those embarked on by architect Shigeru Ban.
Photo by Takanobu Sakuma
Ban, 56, is the winner of this year’s Pritzker Architecture Prize — the Oscars of architecture — and is renowned for creating astonishing buildings out of humble cardboard tubes.
Over the last three decades, Japanese architect Ban has created everything from cardboard housing to cathedrals and art galleries, making him more than deserving of the world’s most prestigious architectural prize.
Yet it was not just these amazing achievements that so impressed the Pritzker judges. It was also Ban’s humanitarian work. It was as a result of the plight of the millions of people who were displaced by the civil war in Rwanda that he first proposed the idea of paper tube shelters to the High Commissioner for Refugees at the United Nations in 1994. A year later, he came up with the idea of paper log cabins to house victims of an earthquake in Kobe.
The same year, Ban started the Voluntary Architects’ Network, which has helped with disaster-relief efforts in Haiti, China, India and Turkey, and it was after the devastating earthquake in the New Zealand city of Christchurch which killed 185 people in 2011 that a spectacular cathedral rose from a sea of rubble and cardboard.
There are now also other architects and designers across the world increasingly working with cardboard, largely because of the current zest for recycling and a consumer need for environmentally friendly goods. It also has many practical benefits, such as being warm, strong and light, which make it as great for building as it is for packing goods.
It is often treated with special chemicals and undergoes various production techniques to make it even stronger, more resistant to fire and water and more flexible, meaning that some of the buildings it is used to create can be expected to last for around two decades.
Photo by Stephen Goodenough
There is also a boom in the number of interior design elements and home accessories being created using materials that may have otherwise become tubes or boxes. Designers are now catching on to what packers have known for years — that cardboard can provide cost-effective, practical and innovative solutions in a huge range of different settings.