Cardboard Cubbyhouse: 1. Origins

The inspiration hit me one day after the kids were playing in a two-box cubby contraption their mother had thrown together in the room-without-clear-demarcation. While putting them away, I noticed that these computer boxes were solid. And quoted on the base were all sorts of strengths: crushing, bursting, weight that-can-be-carried. My mind ticked over.

Frank Gehry’s carboard chair has always been a favourite, I just love the idea of using something so unexpected for solid, long term furniture (and google it, several places are selling them to this day, and they cost more than an Aeron!) And in a similar vein, I’d not long before been to see the cardboard house outside the Opera House. While the low-cost and ease of construction are plusses (as is its relative biodegradability), I just fundamentally think that building things out of fat cardboard laminates is cool (in fact, under moderate scrutiny, you can see that cardboard is not quite the eco-friendly tool to house the masses it might seem – you cut down fewer trees, but then you need huge amounts of water and lots of delicious carbon to reduce a mighty tree to a soggy paste which you can then form into cool crinkly shapes. And do these huddled homeless masses really only want for super-cheap building materials? Or, are there a host of endemic socio-political pathologies that only several centuries of perfect conditions might erase?)

I just want to make it clear that although there is some social and environmental merit, I’m no misty-eyed treehugger. I started to build this because it would be damn natty. And make my kids the envy of the inner west. Also I was (and am) creatively under-challenged at work and strange ideas just kept popping out of me.

Early designs resembled Gehry’s: a curvy retro-ish thing made with ribs. But at some point I can’t quite recall, I decided something in the shape of an arrowhead would be an interesting space both from inside and out, and a sketch more or less identical to the final design was quickly produced. (Some practicalities intervened, I live in the termite capital of Sydney and all of Sydney can get quite wet – last century anyway – so I didn’t want to have the thing directly touch the ground, which the retro designs did.)

Cubby Scale ModelOne of the things my current, noncreative, job has taught me is that it really is OK to plan things in detail. So, having transferred my sketch to Illustrator (with 100% right measurements) I sat down for a couple of nights and made me up a 1:10 scale (1:1000 in 3D) model. (It’s since met with the kids and been beautified. Don’t have a photo of that, but I’ll try to add one in)

I flirted with the idea of just ordering up a huge batch of cardboard, but I decided that I ran across a fair bit of the stuff in my line of work – directly, but also my whole department was lucky to receive a lot of big boxes. It also seemed reasonable to re-use what would otherwise be recycled eventually, but who knows how efficiently or cleanly. And also the prospect of talking to the relatively small number of cardboard suppliers about how much did I want, what did I want it for, what kind did I want, etc., was not enticing.

I also learned a lot about cardboard (it was also around this time that I learned that the only reason you wouldn’t just use wikipedia, is if something isn’t in wikipedia). Cardboard (correct name “corrugated cardboard”) had a surprisingly spread-out history: first someone invented the crinkly paper. Then, someone else worked out you could stick a sheet of flat paper on one side to make it more rigid. Later, someone else again worked out how to stick paper to both sides. Someone else worked out that you could make it into boxes which both stacked well (it doesn’t crush along the “grain”) and protected their contents (it does crush laterally, acting like a cushion).

It comes in various thicknesses (1,2 or 3 wall) and various pitches (“flutes”). The cardboard I’d seen in the computer boxes originally was double-wall A/B flute (I’m guessing the flute letters, I seemed sure at the time) which turns out to be fairly common in larger boxes and has the advantage (where you’re laminating) of being thicker to begin with – they’ve done half the work for you.

Part FSo I began gathering, and then I had to spend quite a lot of money on tools to measure, rule, cut, glue … and on December 7, 2005 I completed one peice, “Part F” of the base (for almost all of the first year, the cubby existed only as the base).

And that seems like a good place to stop.

    • kabababrubarta
    • March 27th, 2007

    Nice design! kabababrubarta

    • pdaddy
    • March 27th, 2007

    Why, thank you, kabababrubarta, you are officially my first comment from the blogosphere. I shall have you framed.

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    cubby houses

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