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Review: Cardboard Book

June 1, 2011

A new book from an editions chronicles the creative possibilities of designing with this humble, everyday material.

Cardboard Book
Published by an editions // 2010

“Did you ever think you’d come across a cardboard bridge, farm, office, bed, light, phone case, surfboard, computer, necklace, or toy gorilla?” So reads the back cover of Cardboard Book, the first title to be published by new Singapore-based architecture and design publisher, an editions.

Cardboard Book is a compilation of experiments with cardboard creatively produced by architects, designers and craftspeople. Sorted by categories including architecture & interiors, furniture & lighting, products, art & installations and toys, the pages are filled with fun, clever and at times intricate and surprising objects and spaces that explore the endless possibilities of working with this humble and ordinary material.

As editor Narelle Yabuka explains in the introduction, “there’s a sense of democracy attached to cardboard. It is a cheap, readily available, familiar, portable, and recyclable material, but what makes it particularly egalitarian is the ease with which it can be used. No special tools are required to cut, bend, fold, stack, glue, or tape it.” As expected, there is an abundance of everyday objects included: chairs, tables, shelves, kids toys, pet furniture, all crafted in a myriad of ways using this lightweight, malleable yet robust material. The range of toys, in particular, embraces the affordability and accessibility of cardboard, with a series of ‘do-it-yourself’ creations that involve children in the construction and decoration of the object. One of these, Spanish illustrator Javier Mariscal’s ‘Villa Julia’, is a contemporary foldable playhouse designed for Italian furniture brand Magis that lets children build their home and add their own decoration to the exterior.

On a larger scale, the book also investigates buildings, installations and interiors that test the structural potential of cardboard. Familiar projects such as Shigeru Ban’s ‘Paper Bridge’ in southern France, with a frame made from cardboard tubes held in place with metallic nodes, are included. The temporary project replicated the dimensions of the more permanent Pont du Gard, which spans 22 metres across the River Gard, yet was designed to sit lightly on the ground with site-sensitive foundations. Australian architects Peter Stutchbury and Colin James’ ‘Cardboard House’ also features – a propotype for relief housing, swathed in a tent-like skin, which can be transported flat-packed and constructed in just sixteen hours. In addition to testing the capabilities of cardboard, these examples are also explorations into the ecological and socially responsible benefits of this humble material.

A range of delightful and whimsical designs celebrating the throwaway material appears throughout the book. Dutch artist Sjors Vervoort placed basic cardboard cutouts of hand-drawn bugs around the city of Eindhoven to produce a stop-motion film entitled Cardboard, which follows the fantastical creatures moving through the city [watch the video here]. Easy to source, cheap and lightweight, cardboard proved to be a valuable resource for Vervoort. US-based Ben Blanc’s dog-shaped ‘Cat Scratch’ is a simple and witty object that allows felines to dig their claws into their canine counterparts; while Matt Shackleford’s ‘Recession Case’ is a recession-proof cardboard iPhone case with an affordable price tag of just 99c.

In Australia, March Studio’s 2007 Aesop Store on Flinders Lane in Melbourne explored the possibilities of designing with cardboard. March used the corrugated inner layers of the cardboard to introduce a detailed and textured finish that added decoration to the dull tones of the cardboard surface.Though March’s Aesop store doesn’t make an appearance in Cardboard Book, the same decorative elements reappear in projects including dARCH studio’s YEShop retail design in Athens, Greece, as well as ‘Scrap Lights’, a particularly elegant series of pendant lighting designs from Seattle-based studio, graypants. Made from stacked layers of board that have been cut at various angles, the corrugated waves casting delicate shadows across the room, defying the simplicity of their making.

Mike Sheldrake’s ‘Cardboard-core Surfboard’ is one of the more remarkable inclusions. The design features a cardboard core made with interlocking ribs, sealed with fiberglass cloth and epoxy resin giving the board a translucent effect, with a honeycomb-like core. Italy-based English artist Chris Gilmour, meanwhile, painstakingly replicates cars, bicycles, typewriters and statues in intricately detailed sculptures. His work also includes miniature churches constructed from discarded coffee, cigarette and condom packaging – bringing together the divine and the discarded and transforming the functional into the decorative.

Cardboard Book is partly an exploration into the versatility and functionality of cardboard, but mostly it is a celebration of the creative minds that have produced such a wide-reaching range of work. Though some of the objects and spaces will be familiar, the book is a delight to sift through and serves as a good-humoured reminder of the creative possibilities of using simple, familiar and affordable materials.

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