Paper as strong as rock

10 years ago, multidisciplinary artist, Sumer Erek collected 120,000 discarded newspapers from across London and built ‘Newspaper House’ in Hackney. Volunteers from all over the city helped build the piece, encouraged to add old newspapers to the structure which, when the rain hit, congealed the paper to make the construction even stronger. That same year Erek built another Newspaper House in Liverpool, featured at The Blackie for the Liverpool Biennial.

Newspaper House, Liverpool. Image credits: Mike Carney

Newspaper House, Liverpool. Image credits: Mike Carney 

Designers are increasingly mindful of developing materials which are not only more sustainable and recyclable but also are resistant. Although Erek’s design was a temporary art piece, Newspaper House sheds light on the benefits of recycling everyday materials for creative innovation and specifically, the use of recycled paper.

Newspaper House, Liverpool. Image credits: Mike Carney 

Newspaper House, Liverpool. Image credits: Mike Carney 

Like Erek, other designers and researchers in the construction industry are experimenting with old newspapers and scrap paper, creating paper-based materials that rival plastic and concrete in strength and durability. Take ‘PaperBricks’ by Eindhoven-based designer WooJai, who constructs furniture and bricks from compressing glue and paper pulp. WooJai’s designs are soft to touch and have a stylish marbled aesthetic, yet, similar to wood, the material has maximum strength and can be cut and drilled together.

PaperBricks. Image credits: WooJai

Paper furniture. Image credits: WooJai 

BetR-blok is a brick made from paper and other cellulose-based products which, similar to WooJai’s designs, is pressed into shape. BetR-blok isolates much better than conventional building materials and consumes less energy. The blocks are termite, fire and mould-resistant and reduce the need for incorporating fibreglass into buildings. BetR-blok also produces ‘papercrete’, which is a sustainable concrete-like material constructed from paper pulp.

BetR-Blok. Image credits: BetR-Blok 

Paper Palace. Image credits: BetR-blok 

Although these paper-based materials are strong enough to be reliable building materials, researchers are experimenting with making paper products increasingly resistant and one way to do so is to add naturally stronger materials into the mix. At the University of Jaen in Spain,  researchers have constructed well-insulated bricks by mixing paper waste with clay. The mixture is placed under pressure until brick-like blocks form, illustrating that adding additional natural products can make paper-based materials increasingly durable and robust.

Although the construction industry is a long way away from designing buildings completely with recycled paper, these products give insight into how we can best utilize old paper for a sustainable means and give waste material a new breath of life.

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