Reducing weight: cardboard structures

A good example of the structural use of cardboard is the cardboard school in Suffolk, designed by the architect, Shigeru Ban. In considering the possibility of using cardboard as a material for your project you might like to investigate this project, and also some of the websites indicated in the table below.

Question Web reference Information
We think of cardboard as a packaging material, but how else can we use cardboard? www.crescent-cardboard.com
Commercial suppliers of cardboard products
Click on products for range of items and costs

Swedish company specialising in toys and furniture made of cardboard
How has cardboard been used in the construction of buildings? www.cardboardschool.co.uk
Information about the Essex school made from cardboard

See www.cardboardschool.co.uk/content/index3.htm and then download the pdf entitled Design Guide (715 kb)

For information about the engineers see www.burohapppold.com/
For information about the Japanese architect enter Shigeru Ban into a search engine for an array of articles / summaries about his work

Read about Buckminster Fuller’s geodesic cardboard dome (NB scroll down page for details of the Milan Triennale exhibition)
Who might benefit from cardboard structures?

Consider the plight of refugees needing quickly constructed, cheap housing:

www.unhcr.org The site on the United Nations High Commission for Refugees

Think about those who already use cardboard as a makeshift shelter:
www.shelter.org.uk The website of the charity for homeless people

Are there any other possible uses for cardboard? www.gcbr.com

Read about the Great Cardboard Boat Race and see www.gcbr.com/tips.html for advice on building water-proof boats

Some of the design issues that the design must address
There are numerous structures around every home and office that carry significant loads. However if we consider a chair as an example:

• the way the weight of the body is supported by the chair as a structure.would need to be understood.
• cardboard sections capable of carrying the appropriate ‘body’ loads would need to be developed and tested
• appropriate finishing methods would need to be found
• methods of assembly which minimise the introduction of new materials and components, and avoid adhesives where possible, would need to be investigated
• visual issues associated with the use of cardboard would need to be carefully explored
• the design must be suitable for manufacture in the UK
• the styling must be appropriate for the selected UK market
• the cost must be appropriate for the selected UK market
• the product packaging must be minimised and, perhaps, eliminated


The following photographs illustrate the design problem. They show typical flat-packed furniture and its associated packaging, often cardboard and a cardboard wine carrier. The use of significant quantities of materials and the associated weight is evident from the first photograph. The wine carrier indicates the kind of loads that cardboard can carry. “Is all that weight necessary?” is the starting point for students.

In the 1930s R Buckminster Fuller - an early environmental campaigner - used the phrase “Doing more with less” to make the point, and this idea lies at the heart of this project.

They can be used as an introduction to the open-ended brief “Reduce, Reuse, Recycle”. or the specific recycling design context on ” Reducing weight: cardboard structures”

Flat-packed furniture and its associated packaging

Cardboard carriers … to bring home glasses and wine

Loughborough subjects
Design Contexts
Developing design briefs
Images to stimulate students’ thinking (images still to come)
Advice on finding clients
Generic design contexts
Advice on specific design briefs
CAT specific design briefs
Loughborough University specific design briefs
ITDG specific design briefs
CAT support information
Loughborough University support information
ITDG support information