Dear reader, if you’ve dipped into these blogs now and then, you might have gained a sense of how folding intersects with both the pedestrian and the aesthetic. Folding is a process, a practice, a phenomenon that is both physical and meta-physical, practical and playful, structured and improvisational. Folding is an amazing technical feat that transforms one dimension into three. When two flat planes fold together, the human imagination knows no bounds.
Today, architects envision ways to use folding designs to help solve two critical, interrelated problems: waste management and emergency housing. Since 2001, China purchased up to 40% of American recycling of plastics, paper, and cardboard. China’s National Sword policy of 2018 put an end to this – in toto. Now, American companies are struggling to figure out efficient ways to cope with the crisis – a mounting pileup of trash. A parallel crisis is the need for emergency housing – shelters for those affected by climate catastrophes and forced migration.
Rethinking and re-designing efficient and cost-effective climate- and waste technologies ideally needs the artistic- as well as the scientific mind. Over the past decade, a global movement in cardboard architectural constructions has been taking place, where both artistic and scientific minds are collaborating within academia and industry (cardboard in architecture). Folded cardboard offers a wide range of creative habitats offer cheap, easy-to-construct, light, transportable, eco-friendly solutions to parallel crises. At the same time, these constructions of folded cardboard are at once incredibly beautiful. (Eekhout, et al, 2008)
Take the 2013 installation of cardboard houses created by students at Chongqing University. In just one month, students built 14 houses with recycled cardboard. These houses can resist rain, moisture and are ventilated. People can sit, lie and entertain in their card space. At Chongqing University, you can major in paper architecture! Where was this when I went to college? I spent my life searching for that intersection of the artistic, scientific and playful. Phew!
In 2016, Kunming City (capital of Southwest Yunnan Province) hosted a festival of sustainable architecture. Cardboard houses A student looks at a structure made out of cardboard during an architecture festival at the Kunming University of Science and Technology in Kunming City, the capital of Southwest China’s Yunnan Province, May 30, 2016. A total of 23 teams from eight universities presented architectural designs in the festival. (Photo:China News Service/Ren Dong)
The department of architecture and urban planning at Tongji University recently presented a cardboard architectural display atthe Ninth Biennale’s design and architecture fest in Lucca, Italy in late 2018. Lucca prides itself on the finding and fueling relationships between art and society. And so, theLucca Biennale is famous for its dedication to the paper, creatively applied to art, design, and architecture. The exhibition from Tongji University is in effect, a ‘city’ – multiple cardboard structures that reflect the traditional Chinese “Ting” buildings, places where people used to stop and rest. The visionary educators/creators aim to preserve China’s spiritual traditions, while fostering international and domestic cooperation in fighting this blight. There constructions (as you can see here) are built to reflect harmony, while creating ecological sustainability.
Can we not afford to recognize and realize the multiple uses of cardboard for housing as a sustainable solution here? I raise my glass to such ingenuity and get back to tinkering with more than bodies!
Mick Eekhout, Fons Verheijen, Ronald Visser (Eds) Cardboard in Architecture.Research in Architectural Engineering Series 7, IOS Press, 2008
China Daily May 31st2013 – Living Paper Dreams (Chongking University)
Accessed 23 August 2019
ECNS Wire May 31st, 2016 – Kunming City
Accessed 23 August 2019
For more on this topic of China’s new policy on waste recycling, visit