Steel, concrete, bricks and even engineered timber are some of the most commonly used products in the building industry, but cardboard is a material that is joining the ranks and could become even more prolific in time to come.

In the introduction of Cardboard Book (2011), a compilation of experiments with cardboard by Singapore-based publisher an editions, editor Narelle Yabuka explains that there is a sense of democracy attached to cardboard. Cheap, widely available, portable and recyclable, the material is egalitarian in the sense that it is easy to use without the need for special tools during production, construction or installation.

However, this accessibility does not mean that the architecture and designs that are born of the material are cheapened. If anything, projects are enhanced and made more impressive with the use of cardboard. Here are five examples that showcase the endless possibilities of paper’s studier sister:

Christchurch Cardboard Cathedral by Shigeru Ban

You can’t mention the words ‘cardboard’ and ‘architecture’ in the same sentence without making reference to Japanese architect, Shigeru Ban. This year’s Pritzker Prize winner is renowned for his use of paper and cardboard in extensive disaster relief efforts, the earliest being the 1994 Rwanda conflict, when he proposed paper-tube shelters to house millions thrown into tragic living conditions.

More recently, Ban designed the Cardboard Cathedral in Christchurch, New Zealand following the devastating 2011 earthquakes. Offering to carry out the design at no cost, his idea was for a simple A-frame structure made from prefabricated elements. This includes 20 feet containers and cardboard tubes of equal length. As the geometry was decided by the plan and elevations of the original cathedral, there is a gradual change in angle of each of the tubes.

Images: Bridgit Anderson. Source: Shigeru Ban Architects

Subdivided columns by Michael Hansmeyer

These cardboard columns have earned the title of the world’s most complex architecture – and rightly so. Designed by ‘computational architect’ Hansmeyer, they were created by iterating a subdivision algorithm over and over again, before being fabricated out of cardboard.

Standing at nine feet tall, the columns are made of 2,700 1mm-thin slices of cardboard stacked on top of wooden cores. Each column contains somewhere between eight and 16 million polygonal facades, with Hansmeyer saying that the amount of detail involved was too complex for even a 3D printer (at least in 2011). Despite the complexity of each column, it only took 15 hours to laser-cut all the slices, with three cutters working at the same time overnight.

Images: Michael Hansmeyer

Rabobank HQ by Sander Architecten

Giant cylinders of cardboard and paper enclose meeting rooms inside the headquarters for Rabobank, a financial services institution. The architects had approached the project viewing the office building as a modern city, where both individual freedom and spontaneous interaction are important.

Translucent washi paper covers one cylinder, while layered multi-ply cardboard was layered to create textured patterns on the surface of another. 

Images: Sander Architecten

Cardboard House by Peter Stutchbury and Col James

eveloped in 2004 for Houses of the Future, an exhibition that asked six architects to experiment ambitiously and physically with six materials, the Cardboard House by Peter Stutchbury represents the reduction of technology and simplification of needs. It utilises 85 per cent recycled and 100 per cent recyclable materials, and is intended for use as emergency housing or short-term accommodation, such as during the renovation of a home.

The house proposes a cardboard portal structure with interlocking members. Enclosing walls incline to form a tent-like interior with a sleeping loft tucked into its upper bracing members. The structure is wrapped in a protective raincoat, and infused with filtered light from above. Large pivoting flaps along its northern face can also be opened up.

he project was designed with Col James, who leads the University of Sydney’s Ian Buchan Fell Housing Research Centre, and Susan Clarke, Fell’s senior researcher.

Images: Peter Stutchbury

Packed by Min-Chieh Chen, Dominik Zausinger and Michele Leidi

This outdoor pavilion, the brain child of three then design students at the ETH Zurich, Switzerland, is made of 409 truncated cones of different diameters and thicknesses. The cardboard hoops negotiate their parameters with each other by adapting their size, form and position, and connected together with ties, create a dome-shaped network of circles.

Shown at the 3D paperArt exhibition in November as part of 2010’s Shanghai Expo, the pavilion’s cones were manufactured using corrugated cardboard in 28 layers, each cut, glued and labelled with a computer-controlled machine. The designers had set out to effectively employ computer aided architectural design (CAAD), and used self-made computer programs to carry out the design, production, logistics and packing in Zurich, as well as the shipping and assembly in Shanghai.

Images: Packed Pavilion