Skip to main content

While paper architecture popularly refers to architectural ideas that exist only on paper and have visionary qualities. Today, we will talk about a different type of paper architecture: Architecture that is actually made of paper. Though this idea seems a little absurd at first, Architect Shigeru Ban has proved otherwise.

Shigeru Ban is a Japanese architect and is best known for his experimentation with paper as a building material. He developed a fascination with paper early in his career as he discovered that paper’s structural integrity was much better than assumed. Hence, he started experimenting with paper tubes manufactured for the textile industry as structural columns. He soon realized that this unconventional building material is extremely inexpensive, accessible and can be used in disaster-hit areas to quickly build large quantities of high quality, low-cost shelters.

Ban has always had an inclination towards humanitarian architecture and has dedicated his life towards making design accessible to the most vulnerable of communities. He has been awarded the Pritzker Prize for his innovative use of materials and compassionate approach to architectural design.

Ban’s extensive knowledge of recyclable materials and his ingenuity towards design is reflected in many of his designs. Discussed below are some of his most inspiring projects:

Paper Log Houses – Kobe, Japan, 1995

This modular house was designed in response to the earthquake that jolted Kobe in 1995. The walls of the shelter were made from 106mm diameter, 4mm thick paper tubes and tenting material was used for the roof, while the foundations consisted of donated beer crates filled with sandbags. A waterproof sponge tape backed with adhesive was sandwiched between the paper tubes of the walls to provide insulation.

Each unit occupied a 52 sq.m. space. The area between the units was used as shared community spaces. These units did not only provide shelter from the elements to the climatic refugees but also gave their communities a chance to thrive again. These temporary shelters were easy to dismantle, and the materials easily disposed or recycled. The same design was later used in Turkey after the 1999 earthquake and then in India after the 2005 earthquake.


Paper Concert Hall – L’Aquila, Italy, 2011

This building was gifted to the people of Italy by the Japanese government after an earthquake that occurred on April 6, 2009, in L’Aquila, Italy. The intent was to construct a concert hall that was easy to assemble and durable, for an early recommencement of musical activities in the city.  The building spreads over 700 square meters. The structure is composed of steel, cardboard concrete and clay sacks. The temporary unit houses 230 seats and can be dismantled and moved to a new location.


Cardboard Cathedral – Christchurch, New Zealand, 2013

This cathedral was built after an earthquake of magnitude 6.3 hit the city of Christchurch, New Zealand and irreparably damaged one of Christchurch’s most esteemed landmarks – the iconic 1864 Anglican cathedral. A temporary cathedral was constructed in its place with an expected lifespan of 50 years.

Constructed as a simple A-frame structure, using 98 cardboard tubes of equal length and 8 shipping containers, the cardboard cathedral is deemed as one of the safest buildings in Christchurch. The paper tubes were coated with polyurethane to make them water proof and flame retardant. This cathedral, which has a capacity of 700 people, can be used as an event space and a concert space. The Cardboard Cathedral demonstrated how paper can be used to create meaningful and beautiful spaces as well.

Ban has proved that the use of paper is not limited to creating basic, low-cost shelters but it can also be used to fashion beautiful spaces and create better, more environmentally sound buildings. Paper has the ability to be used as an environmentally friendly and low-cost alternative to traditional building materials

Following in Shigeru Ban’s foot steps we now see a lot of architects and artist experimenting with paper as a building material.


WooJai Lee, designer

WooJai Lee, a designer based in Eindhoven has turned recycled paper into bricks that can be used to build furniture. These Paper Bricks are made from newspaper pulp that has been mixed with glue and pressed into a mould. The paper gives each brick a soft, textile-like surface. Each brick can be cut, drilled and glued in the same way as wood. Holes down the side of each block allow them to be attached together. This innovative piece of furniture was displayed at Dutch Design Week 2016.


papaer bridge

British artist Steve Messam experimented with the structural qualities of paper in 2015, when he installed a weight-bearing foot bridge across a stream, using 20,000 sheets of bright red paper. This temporary installation was perched above a stream in the rural Lake District national park of Cumbria, UK. Two stone-filled cages anchor the structure to the ground on either side of the river, with an additional wooden form to shape the arc of paper. After placing the foundations, each sheet was inserted without adhesives or fixings, ending in a smooth, compact crescent. The bridge uses the mechanics of an arch in compression and highlights paper’s incredible compressive strength. The poppy red bridge stands out as a peculiar element against the natural backdrop of the site.

Watch a Range Rover driving over a Steve Messam bridge made entirely from paper!

Coachella Music Festival in 2015 flaunted a pavilion built using over a tonne of paper pulp.

Coachella Music Festival in 2015 flaunted a pavilion built using over a tonne of paper pulp.

The Ball-Nogues Studio produced an organic, purple and orange pavilion that enveloped the music fans. This Pulp Pavilion was constructed by air blasting the paper pulp on a series of columns covered by twine.

The tall latticed structures were produced by using 2,200 meters of twine woven around the formwork. Then, the process of air blasting was used to cover this material with more than 1 tonne of paper pulp. Once this had dried up, the firm components were bound together to create a structure with a scalloped roof edge.

According to the architects,

“Historically inapplicable to architectural structure and considered disposable, it exhibits unique sculptural capabilities when recycled into pulp“.

It is evident that the potential of paper is vastly underestimated. Not only is it a low cost and environmentally friendly alternative to the traditional building materials, it also has a wide range of applications that are currently being explored and are in the process of discovery.