Paper has been a part of the building process for thousands of years. Traditional shoji screens in Japan are used as windows, sliding doors and room dividers. As these screens are nothing more than thin paper over a wooden lattice, they provide privacy while still allowing light to filter through. More recently, weather-resistant papers such as Tyvek are used as moisture barriers in new construction projects.
However, paper is capable of being much more than a thin cladding material.
Many buildings created by Japanese architect Shigeru Ban use paper as a load-bearing, structural component. The paper is formed into large tubes, much like those used in casting concrete columns (think of a paper towel tube on steroids) and these tubes are used in place of traditional building materials such as wood or metal.
The very first project for which Shigeru Ban used paper tubes was for a temporary structure known as Paper Arbor.
It was a simple construction; 48 tubes were stood upright in a circle and held up a roof. However, when the project was dismantled six months later it was discovered that being exposed to the elements of wind and rain had hardened the paper tubes and they had actually increased in strength and durability.
Other amazing projects of Shigeru Ban include the Japanese Pavilion for the 2000 Hanover Exposition.
This elegant structure was composed of a grid of paper tubes that were then bent into an arc shape, much like the poles of a "pop-up" tent.
Most recently, Shigeru Ban has developed inexpensive disaster relief shelters made out of paper tubes. From Kobe, Japan in 1995 to Port-au-Prince Haiti in 2010, these structures are built for natural disaster victims around the world.
Not only are they a safe shelter from the elements and a necessary source of privacy, but they also provide the victims with a sense of dignity. Who knew that paper was capable of so much!
For more cool paper structures by Shigeru Ban, check out: http://www.shigerubanarchitects.com/