Sorry, you need to enable JavaScript to visit this website.

Cardboard fixtures and fittings

Outside the box

We usually think of cardboard as cheap and disposable. But, as Josh Sims explains, designers are reconsidering its potential

We usually think of cardboard as cheap and disposable. But, as Josh Sims explains, designers are reconsidering its potential

Josh Sims | December/January 2017

Maarten Heijltjes, a designer in Amsterdam, was working on a new product idea when he noticed that all the parts he needed came in packaging tubes. He was throwing away 20 every week, so he began to wonder: perhaps the wrapping could be the object itself. The R16, launched this year by his company, Waarmakers, is the result: a long, rectangular wire-hung light that clips together using the packaging it comes in. What’s more, that packaging is cardboard. 

It may sound like an unlikely choice of material for a designer object. But a beige revolution is under way. “Actually, when you look at it, cardboard is beautiful,” says Heijltjes. “It has a texture and warmth to it.” His customers seem to agree: the light is available in cardboard’s natural fawn or in black. The fawn is the clear favourite. 

Repackaged

The R16 light, made of cardboard tubes 

There is currently a boom in cardboard products, ranging from tech accessories to sporting goods. Google, in a bid to make virtual reality accessible and affordable on a mass scale, made its smartphone VR viewer out of it. They made no attempt to disguise it either: they called the device Google Cardboard. The company is now working on a prototype cardboard virtual-reality controller too. Possibly inspired by a cardboard bicycle launched in 2013, Cartonlab, a Spanish design agency that focuses solely on exploring the possibilities of cardboard, last year developed a kayak which it hopes to bring to market. A surfboard designer, Westkust, now uses cardboard rather than the usual polyurethane foam to fill its products, which are then coated with fibreglass. 

Early adopter Frank Gehry’s forward-looking Wiggle Side Chair

While designers have been experimenting with cardboard for decades – Frank Gehry produced a chair as long ago as the 1970s – there’s been little thought about its full potential. But as they and their consumers become more concerned with using sustainable and recyclable materials, designers are increasingly turning to cardboard. It also combines several other attractive properties. It is light, durable and, most importantly according to Rick Buchter, a Dutch designer, it is cheap and requires little in the way of specialist machinery or heavy industry to work with. That makes it an ideal material for trying out new ideas. 

Three years ago Buchter’s company, Fiction Factory, which has grown from a firm which built theatre sets into a construction studio, discovered a packaging technology that could wrap layers of cardboard around a mould, rather than simply folding sheets into shapes. They started to think big: maybe cardboard, often used as a short-term fix in disaster-relief situations, could be used to make proper, long-lasting structures. This year they launched Wikkelhouse, a range of cardboard buildings. First, they make 1.2-metre-deep segments, or modules, constructed from 24 layers of waterproofed, recycled cardboard moulded around a house-shaped frame. These are then fixed together to make the finished building. Thanks to this system of pre-made sections, each house – starting at around €25,000 and available with elegant plywood interiors, glass doors and even wood burners – can be put together in as little as a single day. The company has sold eight of them in Europe, with orders for eight more on the books, to be used as cabins, offices and permanent homes. It expects them to last up to 100 years.

The beauty of beige 

LEFT A Wikkelhouse being moulded. RIGHT The 24 layers of cardboard in its walls

“The fact is that the more you explore cardboard, the more benefits it offers,” Buchter argues. “It solves two of the main problems in building – it is structural and insulating at the same time, while also being light enough to transport inexpensively. Sure, when people hear of a cardboard house, inevitably there’s some scepticism. But it’s a question of perception. Tell them that it’s a house made of wood, but that we’re just using wood fibre in a far more efficient way, and they start to see it makes sense.” 

Readers' comments

Sign in or Create your account to join the discussion.