The Cardboard House represents the reduction of technology and the simplification of needs. By demonstrating that we are able to recycle 100% of the building components at extremely low cost, the Cardboard House is a direct challenge to the housing industry to reduce housing and environmental costs.

Stutchbury and Pape, working in association with the Ian Buchan Fell Housing Research Unit at University of Sydney, see this project as a genuine temporary housing option.

A cardboard house places the least demand on resources and encourages people to shift their preconceptions about the “typical Australian house”. Many Australians enjoy camping on their holidays, easily shifting their lifestyle from the rigidity of the urban home to the freedom of the campsite.

Being extremely low cost and transportable, the Cardboard House could be used in a wide variety of applications. You could live in one while your permanent house is being built or renovated, for emergency housing, or for short-term accommodation.

Why choose cardboard?

Cardboard is not a traditional building material, however the introduction of innovative bonding, cutting and structural techniques has provided the opportunity to consider this lightweight and recyclable material in a more creative fashion.

All the material in the house is recycled, and recyclable, making it an excellent environmentally sustainable option for housing. The Cardboard House is made of recycled cardboard supplied by Visy Industries. This is completed with a waterproof roof made from HDPE plastic, which also forms the material of the flexible under-floor water tanks and the novel kitchen and bathroom ‘pods’.

How it all goes together

The Cardboard House is conceived as a kit of parts comprising a flat pack of frames, and infill floor and wall panels. It uses minimal fixings: nylon wing nuts, hand-tightened polyester tape stays and Velcro fastenings are used to assemble the frames and protective skin system.

The building can be assembled by two people over a six-hour period using appropriate scaffolding, and is transportable in a light commercial vehicle.
A series of repetitive portal frames are both spaced and stabilised by a standardised secondary structure, similar to the interlocking spacer sheets found in wine boxes. Once assembled, the structure provides a creative architectural frame from which the house derives its aesthetic.

Fixed and moveable furnishings, floor systems, door and opening frames, lighting and other services all relate to the structure and layout.

The roof covering is a lightweight material that is as transportable as the structure. Similar to a tent fly, the roof fabric assists in holding down the building, providing a diffuse light in the day and a glowing box at night.

Water is collected in bladders underneath the floor which double as ballast to hold down the lightweight building.

A composting toilet system produces nutrient-rich water for gardening.

Low-voltage lighting can be powered using a 12-volt car battery or small photovoltaic cells mounted on the roof framing.

What are the implications for the future of housing?

The Architects see this project as a genuine housing option. Extremely low cost, transportable, lightweight and flexible, this building could be used in a variety of widespread applications. The Cardboard House is seen as a prototype that may serve to meet future housing in a way that is responsible and beautiful.

Historical or theoretical precedents

Paper and cardboard have been used to construct domestic housing in Japan for many centuries, where rice paper (shoji) was both cheap and safe in earthquake prone regions. Folded cardboard (origami) was also used for lightweight enclosures, simulating paper sculpture.

Contemporary Japanese architect Shigeru Ban has used tubular and flat cardboard to great effect for housing, civic buildings, large exhibition pavilions and emergency shelters.

In Australia, pioneering work was carried out at the University of New South Wales by Vincent Sedlack, and just last year Adriano Pupilli, an honours student at the University of Sydney, designed and built a full-size bay of a 5-bedroom house with Col James. This attracted local attention and directly led to the invitation to showcase cardboard as a potential building material in the future.

Environmental features

  • Uses 85% recycled materials
  • All materials are 100% recyclable
  • Recycling the house saves 12 cubic metres of landfill, 39 trees and 30 000 litres of water
  • Extremely low cost, transportable, and flexible, this is a genuine
  • housing option that could be used in a variety of temporary applications
  • Autonomous servicing: uses only 12-volt batteries or small photovoltaic cells for power generation
  • Composting system produces nutrient-rich water for gardening

About the Architects – Stutchbury and Pape

Recognised in Australia and abroad as an accomplished and inspired design firm, Stutchbury and Pape has built works ranging from residential to institutional and public buildings. The practice has received 24 RAIA awards since 1995, and a total of 57 local, state and national architecture and environment awards.

Stutchbury and Pape’s methods appear simple: the genesis of their designs are within each specific site. But they also have a reputation for innovation, an approach that marries the intellect of sustainable principles with the grace of architecture.

The elimination of waste in all its forms is a primary design guide for Stutchbury and Pape. They believe that materials require modelling to suit their use: particularly in the ease, cost and duration of replacement materials. They assemble buildings for flexibility, disassembly, reuse and predetermined lifecycles, so that a building is always seen as a resource.

About the Architects – Col James

Col James has had an abiding concern for environmental sustainability since early childhood in rural NSW, where the use of wood fuel, tank rainwater and composting waste was the accepted way of life.

Col has been involved with students in the research and publication of ‘Low Cost Country Home Building’; construction of the ‘Autonomous House’ at Sydney University; and several alternative technology fairs. He has also promoted Multiple Occupancy (communes) on degraded dairy country in coastal NSW and affordable, expanded houses which has continued this work.
More recently, Col’s engagement with a Unibusiness scholar Adriano Pupilli led to the design and construction of a full size bay of a cardboard student house.

Col holds the strong belief that when households control all the services and become sensitive to rainfall, wind, solar exposure and gardening potential, this will have more impact on sustainable energy use than relying on large utility service providers. Col James works directly with Susan Clarke, the Fell Senior Researcher in all Fell projects.

Why would you live in a cardboard house?

By purchasing this fully recycleable house, collecting your own water, running a composting system and generating your own electricity, you would visibly demonstrate your overall concern for the environment. You would also enjoy the benefits of low capital costs, minimal running costs, and the capacity to alter, repair or renew your home according to need.