You May Never Look at Paper Tubes the Same Way Again

When we think of building materials, we often imagine heavy, solid products like steel and concrete. But it doesn’t always have to be that way.

In fact, there are many materials which are just as useful — and a whole lot easier both on the building crews and the local environment.

Take paper tubes, for example.

They’re found in, among other things, rolls of gift-wrapping paper, toilet paper, and (back when they were a thing) fax paper. But who would’ve thought they could be turned into welcoming shelters for refugees and disaster victims? 

Award-winning architect Ban Shigeru is acclaimed for his innovative designs using paper. He found that cardboard tubes, often discarded, are perfect for constructing emergency housing. They’re sturdy, lightweight, and readily available in most parts of the world. Best of all, they’re sustainable. Considering that 17 billion cardboard tubes wind up in the trash every year, this is a far better result.

Early in his career, Ban turned to the tubes from empty rolls of fax paper out of necessity. He simply couldn’t afford any other materials to work with. However, he discovered endless design possibilities. Although he’s gone on to design high-end buildings around the world, he finds his calling in helping the most vulnerable. Many people fleeing dangerous situations wind up in large camps where they share space with thousands of others in noisy, open conditions. From Rwanda to Ukraine, Ban’s easily-assembled paper tube shelters have given refugees a safe, private space within those camps to regroup from their traumatizing journeys.

We’ll let Ban himself explain his admirable work in Ukraine…

It turns out there are new developments in sustainable building that rely on similarly organic, sustainable materials. (Hemp, anyone?)

We recently helped to produce a series on sustainability, Living Light, for our friends at Japan’s public broadcaster, NHK. The episode “Rock, Paper, Timber” digs into some of the ways smart minds are re-imagining how we design and build the spaces we occupy.

So don’t be surprised if you someday live or work in a place that’s made of something you didn’t expect…

-Cindy Grogan

Photo by Kier… in Sight on Unsplash

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