Another prototype for transitional housing in disaster ravaged areas sees fruition. Melbourne-based architect Peter Ryan is hoping to raise $30,000 to send his cardboard houses to East Timor. Read
By Kerrie O'Brien
June 8, 2005
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Peter Ryan with his cardboard house, which is being built in South Melbourne.
Picture: Rodger Cummins
Living in a cardboard box has never looked so good.
Melbourne architect Peter Ryan's clever but simple design for a house made largely from cardboard could prove revolutionary. With applications in temporary housing and particularly in disaster relief, the structures are inexpensive, easily assembled and surprisingly durable.
The concept of a cardboard house sounds almost inconceivable but it works. The basic structure is a series of pods made from plywood - cardboard panelling is used in the roof, walls and floors. The cardboard panels are the same size as a standard cardboard box, and the houses can be as small or as large as required; pods are simply added either up or out.
"I had this idea of using layers of corrugated cardboard and building up a thick wall, so it was still going to be lighter and cheaper than timber or steel. Then (I) worked in this portal phase, which is cheap plywood with corrugated cardboard inside, which makes a beam or a frame that is actually quite rigid," Mr Ryan says.
The plywood portal frames are the skeleton and the cardboard panels fit in between them. The panels are screwed in, the ends overlapping, so they waterproof themselves.
AdvertisementIn August 2004, Mr Ryan and a friend, Ben Cobham, built a prototype of the house on a vacant block in South Melbourne. Mr Cobham plans to live there with his partner Michelle Heaven and their baby Marlo. Three structures will be built - one is the bedroom and bathroom, the other the kitchen and living area and the third provides another living space, with each structure interconnected by decks. The first was completed in August, 2004, and has withstood the extremes of Melbourne weather. Mr Ryan jokes that the only time water got in was when Mr Cobham left a window open. The second is now nearing completion and the third will be finished later this year.
The houses look like organic shapes with a curved roofline and a Japanese feel to them. Perhaps that is to do with the simplicity of the lines and the natural feel of the sandy-coloured cardboard. Mr Ryan says the floors are like tatami mats popular in Japan - cardboard underfoot is comfortable, acting as a shock absorber. A tarpaulin is fixed over the house to provide waterproofing.
When he graduated from architecture at RMIT, Mr Ryan started work with Greg Burgess, where he stayed for 19 years. He became principal architect and worked on a number of large public buildings, including the Aboriginal Cultural Centre at Uluru, the Eltham Library, the Platypus enclosure at Healesville Sanctuary and, more recently, the refurbishment of the Myer Music Bowl. He resigned to set up his own business three years ago.
"It was pretty hard to find a straight roof in a lot of the stuff I did with Greg Burgess; that was pretty organic. Also, a lot of the projects with Greg were working with a minimal budget, (we) had to work out how to get them built without the dollars. That's where the use of plywood and so forth comes in," Mr Ryan says.
"What I wanted to do was get a form that, because of keeping cardboard as the main material, was to make the wall and the roof the same plane."
The Boxing Day tsunami and more recent earthquake in Sumatra focused attention on the need for temporary housing. The major advantages of the cardboard houses are that they can be flat-packed and stored - and therefore shipped anywhere quickly and easily - and are economically viable.
Mr Ryan met with East Timor's foreign minister and Nobel Laureate Jose Ramos Horta in November last year. He could see applications for the houses in East Timor and invited Mr Ryan to visit him to look at the possibility of using them in student accommodation and as part of eco tourism initiatives.
"In most of the locations we looked at, it would be fine, and a great opportunity to incorporate local craftsmanship, some beautiful woven caneware, bamboo panels and palm fronds," Mr Ryan says.
He hopes to raise $30,000 to send six of the houses to East Timor in the next few months.
With Melbourne's rising real estate prices, Mr Ryan's housing concept may even appeal to people wanting to remain living in the inner city but unable to afford to buy or pay prohibitively expensive rents.
Living in a cardboard house has never looked so good.