Cardboard: An Alternative Construction Material

Cardboard, first invented in 1817, is generally used as a packaging material (A History of Packaging). In 2001, the Department of Trade and Industry (based out of the UK) began looking into the viability of using corrugated cardboard as a building material. The research identified several important traits: cardboard can be easily recycled, has low impact on the environment, is easy to manufacture, has good insulating properties, and can have an attractive texture. Finally, it’s inexpensive, making it an appealing option for temporary construction (Buro Happold).

As a result of these findings, new projects have emerged throughout the world. An addition to Westborough Primary School (UK) was made using only cardboard materials while aiming for zero carbon emissions. The building was constructed in 2002 and serves as an after school club, a kitchenette, a storeroom and a toilet block. After a decade, the structure is reported to be in great condition (The Guardian). The success of this project acts as a proof of concept for the growing cardboard construction industry.

New Westborough Primary School Building. Photo Credit: The Guardian

In addition, an Australian company has recently developed a new product called Ceramiboard. Ceramiboard is composed of traditional cardboard with a special coating. This coating improves the cardboard’s fire-rating and strength, allowing it to be used for fire rated wall assemblies, ducts, strong cardboard boxes and general purpose wall panels. A 14mm thick, three layered wall assembly using Ceramiboard has a compressive strength of 0.45 MPa (65 psi) and a flexural strength of 4-8 MPa (580 – 1160 psi) (Ceramiboard).

The Cardboard Revolution

World renowned architect Shigeru Banu is an adamant supporter of cardboard as a building material. In 2012, he designed a cardboard pavilion in Moscow’s Gorky Park using specially treated cardboard columns. This special treatment provides the structure with a surprisingly long life span (Disegno Daily).

Cardboard Pavilion. Photo Credit: Architizer

Ban has also recently finished a new cardboard cathedral in New Zealand. The original Christchurch cathedral was destroyed during the February 2011 earthquake which claimed the lives of 185 people. A new cathedral was needed, but would take a considerable amount of time to construct. Ban proposed that a temporary cathedral be built using cardboard as it is economical, easy to construct, and eco-friendly.

Christchurch’s New Cardboard Cathedral. Photo Credit: Daily Mail

The cathedral’s platform is made up of shipping containers which provide extra rooms, storage and side chapels. The A-frame roof structure tapers towards the front and is composed of 98 interlocking cardboard tubes which weigh 120 kg each (BBC News). A polycarbonate roof covers these tubes, protecting them from moisture (Make Wealth History).

The total cost of the cathedral is $3.3 million, and the structure has an estimated life-span of 30 years (Daily Mail). However, Ban argues that this could easily be increased to 50 or more if the building is well maintained. The maintenance of such a structure is quite simple when compared to traditional construction, and is one of the most economical features of the new cathedral.

As the cardboard construction industry grows, the product will be refined. This technology has the potential of mass producing affordable buildings for both temporary and permanent use, and will be important in future disaster zones. However, further testing needs to be done to determine the feasibility of these structures in the long term.

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