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O Outro, O Mesmo, São Paulo, Brazil and Shanghai, China

Cardboard shakes off its functional connotations to form an unlikely material for two art installations

More commonly used as a packaging material, cardboard is not the first resource that comes to mind when designing a structure. In these two separate projects, however - both large temporary spaces - the advantages posed by this cheap, accessible, easily transported and delightfully tactile material have led to its employment in a series of versatile structures.


Working as part the 29th São Paulo Art Biennial, Brazilian practice Vazio S/A has produced a piece of scenography and public space that responds to the very Brazilian condition of informal settlement and gathering. O Outro, O Mesmo -which translates to The Other, The Same - forms one of the biennial’s six terrieros, individually themed locales within the vast exhibition hall of Oscar Niemeyer’s Pavilhão Ciccillo Matarazzo.

The brief asked for ‘the notion of borders, sometimes as impenetrable barriers and sometimes as permeable membranes’, to be considered. As architect Carlos Teixeira explains: ‘A flexible, humble, informal conception of space that would not constrain’ was required for the range of performance art pieces shown throughout the festival. As a further consideration, O Outro, O Mesmo was the only terriero required to perform a secondary role as public space.

The set is made up of 12 large moveable pieces that, in one specific orientation, join together to enclose an interior space that can be used for lectures and performances. In this position, walls extrude outwards to enclose smaller niches around the perimeter. Though the sections fit together in this configuration, tessellation is not the only intention of the piece. Being mobile, the set can be changed to suit the varied needs of performers and visitors alike.

The sections were constructed by slotting layers of CNC-cut corrugated cardboard on to perpendicular metal dowels welded on to the steel base frame. Vertical plywood splices were positioned in between each pile of cardboard in order to counter racking. At specific intervals a plywood sheet was used to form a harder wearing layer for standing on. With no adhesives, the structure was compressed using bolts and washers. As the piece received a continual battering from the public and performers, the dry construction facilitated replenishment of the cardboard layers every 20 days.

At a distance, the monolithic blocks created an impression of great masses standing immovably in open space, yet the corrugations rendered them relatively light, allowing the set to be adapted by small groups of people. In addition the porous surface of each piece served to deaden and insulate sound. Through the adept deployment of simple corrugated card all of these factors combined to create a plethora of intimate environments.


In October 2010, Packed was exhibited at the Shanghai Museum of Arts and Crafts in conjunction with the ending of the World Expo. Addressing the theme of global transportation, this cardboard igloo-cum-pavilion was the final project by students in the Master of Advanced Studies in Computer Aided Architectural Design (MAS CAAD) studio at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology, ETH Zurich. The central motive was to implement advanced computer programming and design techniques in order to integrate every process of design, manufacture, transportation and construction.

The pavilion consists of 409 unique truncated cones. The more compact elements sit at the base of the hemispherical volume; these thicker pieces bear more weight and are less visually permeable, masking the interior to some extent. Larger, more slender pieces above chest height afford inhabitants unrestricted views of the sky and surrounding landscape.

Not a single drawing or model was made of the pavilion, for the structure’s eventual form was generated through programming relevant parameters - such as transportation, volume and structural capacity - into bespoke software, written by the students specifically for the project. The converted parametric data was then sent to a CNC machine that worked non-stop for ten days to cut, glue and label 19,000 1.2 x 1.8m sheets of cardboard. Here the material came into its own: no other cheap and freely available alternative could have been processed in such an efficient manner to create a similarly scaled load-bearing structure.

Naturally, with so many near-identical concentric elements, labelling the cones was crucial for the purposes of transportation (and of course construction). Small cones were laboriously slotted inside bigger ones to optimise the overall package volume for efficient transportation; in Shanghai, additional labels indicated the location of each cone within the overall net. In stark contrast to the sophisticated computer-aided production techniques used, the students simply connected each cone to its neighbour using plastic cable ties.

As a singular object, Packed embodies great complexity without compromising on formal clarity, but the project becomes all the more remarkable when one understands it as a meticulously integrated system covering both time and space. The methods of the MAS CAAD students set an example of how advanced computer programming techniques can be used to dramatically change approaches to design problems in an increasingly interconnected global network, where economies of distance, time and efficient transportation can influence the architectural process as much as anything else.

O Outro, O Mesmo (The Other, The Same)
Location: São Paulo, Brazil
Architect: Vazio S/A, Packed

Location: Shanghai, China
Architect: Mas Caad Studio

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