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Is Cardboard an Effective Building Material?

Cardboard, often seen as mere packaging, can be a surprisingly effective building material. Its lightweight nature, combined with surprising strength when properly engineered, allows for innovative, sustainable construction. Moreover, its recyclability makes it an eco-friendly choice. But how does it withstand the elements, and what are its limitations in architecture? Discover the potential of cardboard in modern building design. What could you build with it?
Margaret Lipman
Margaret Lipman
Margaret Lipman
Margaret Lipman

Architects and engineers are always looking for ways to make buildings safer and stronger, especially in areas that are prone to earthquakes. Christchurch, New Zealand, is just such a place, with a series of particularly severe earthquakes between September 2010 and January 2012. The worst of these quakes struck the city on 22 February 2011, killing 185 people and destroying or damaging thousands of buildings, including severe damage to ChristChurch Cathedral.

In one of the more innovative attempts to construct a quake-proof structure, Japanese architect Shigeru Ban was invited to design a temporary replacement. His ingenious building consists of 96 giant cardboard tubes reinforced with wooden beams, with a polycarbon roof and walls made from shipping containers. Widely known as the "Cardboard Cathedral," the building is quake-proof, fireproof, and weatherproof, the cardboard having been coated with polyurethane and flame retardants. It was dedicated in 2013 and has been welcoming worshippers ever since.

A closer look at Christchurch:

  • Located on New Zealand's South Island, Christchurch is the second-most populous city in the country, after Auckland.

  • In March 2019, two mosques in Christchurch were targeted by a far-right terrorist; the mass shootings claimed the lives of 51 people.

  • Due to its extreme southerly location, Christchurch has historically been used a departure point for Antarctic expeditions, including those headed by Ernest Shackleton and Robert Falcon Scott.

Frequently Asked Questions

What are the benefits of using cardboard as a building material?

The Cardboard Cathedral in Christchurch, New Zealand, has been welcoming worshippers since 2013, as a temporary replacement to the city's cathedral that was severely damaged by the February 2011 earthquake.
The Cardboard Cathedral in Christchurch, New Zealand, has been welcoming worshippers since 2013, as a temporary replacement to the city's cathedral that was severely damaged by the February 2011 earthquake.

Cardboard offers several benefits as a building material. It is lightweight, making it easy to transport and handle during construction. Cardboard also has good insulation properties, which can contribute to energy efficiency in buildings. Additionally, it is an eco-friendly option as it is biodegradable and often made from recycled materials. According to a study by the University of Bath, cardboard construction materials can reduce the environmental impact by up to 90% compared to traditional materials.

How durable is cardboard when used in construction?

While cardboard may not seem inherently durable, when treated and used correctly, it can be surprisingly resilient. Techniques such as layering, corrugation, and the application of waterproof and fire-retardant coatings can enhance its strength and durability. For instance, the Wikkelhouse, a house made from cardboard, is designed to last at least 50 years due to its robust construction and protective film. However, it is generally less durable than traditional materials like wood or concrete and is more suitable for temporary structures.

Can cardboard buildings withstand harsh weather conditions?

Cardboard buildings can be designed to withstand mild to moderate weather conditions with the right treatments and design considerations. Waterproof coatings and structural reinforcements can help protect against rain and wind. However, they may not be suitable for extreme weather conditions such as hurricanes or heavy snowfall without significant modification. The durability in harsh weather will depend on the quality of construction and protective measures taken.

Is cardboard a cost-effective option for building?

Cardboard can be a cost-effective building material, especially for temporary or modular structures. Its low material cost, coupled with the ease of assembly and reduced transportation costs due to its lightweight nature, can result in overall savings. However, the longevity and maintenance of cardboard structures should be considered when evaluating cost-effectiveness over time.

What types of structures are best suited for cardboard construction?

Cardboard is best suited for temporary structures, such as event pavilions, emergency shelters, and exhibition stands. It is also gaining popularity in modular housing and small-scale architectural projects where sustainability and quick assembly are priorities. For example, the Dutch design studio Fiction Factory has successfully created the Wikkelhouse, a modular home made from cardboard, demonstrating its potential in residential construction for specific applications.

Margaret Lipman
Margaret Lipman
Margaret Lipman is a teacher and blogger who frequently writes for CulturalWorld about topics related to personal finance, parenting, health, nutrition, and education. Learn more...
Margaret Lipman
Margaret Lipman
Margaret Lipman is a teacher and blogger who frequently writes for CulturalWorld about topics related to personal finance, parenting, health, nutrition, and education. Learn more...

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    • The Cardboard Cathedral in Christchurch, New Zealand, has been welcoming worshippers since 2013, as a temporary replacement to the city's cathedral that was severely damaged by the February 2011 earthquake.
      The Cardboard Cathedral in Christchurch, New Zealand, has been welcoming worshippers since 2013, as a temporary replacement to the city's cathedral that was severely damaged by the February 2011 earthquake.