Cottrell & Vermeulen Architects


The Westborough Cardboard Building for Westborough Primary School, Essex

An exceptionally interesting and, literally, multifaceted projected, The Cardboard Building combined the vision of the schools’ staff and governors with the tenacity of the architect and engineer to research the structural aspects of the project and obtain the necessary permissions from a sceptical local authority. The project demanded that the designers obtain free materials from manufacturers in order to realise what would otherwise have been unaffordable. The building is made almost entirely from recycled materials, which may be recycled again in the future. The building is not the most advanced folded structure ever developed but at the time it moved the science of cardboard structure forward significantly, within the limited resources available. It has acted as a continuous learning experience for successive cohorts of children both in terms of the strength and economy of folded structures and the sustainable issues which the building demonstrates. A brave attempt on a shoestring budget embodying the truth that ‘necessity is the mother of invention’. In addition to this, Westborough’s much-loved head teacher Jenny Davies was an exemplary client. Responsible for some 900 pupils from 3-11 years, she gained a reputation as a tireless campaigner, winning resources from government and other sources to repair and replace outworn buildings, upgrade playground areas, and introduce landscaped areas with the active participation of the children. After 25 years as head-teacher, Jenny stepped-down in May 2017. The Cardboard building was innovatory and unusual in concept and implementation. It used 90 per cent recycled material and the intention was that the the same percentage will be recyclable at the end of its life. The form of the building was inspired by origami and the intrinsic strength of folded paper. The children were involved from the outset, collecting card, doing designs which the architects tried out, as well as their own ideas, in a series of folded paper models. Walls and roof are made of load-bearing cardboard panels which are also naturally insulating. Cardboard tubes are used for pillars and the palisade walls. This is a building of high ambition realised through the drive and tenacity of client and architect. It takes practical sustainability as a core value, and has stimulated and engaged its users from concept to execution in a way that would make major corporations envious. It was also the winner of The RIBA Journal Sustainability Award and shortlisted for the RIBA Client of the Year.

“Using cardboard components wherever possible, this new classroom is built up of 90% recycled materials and is designed to be recyclable itself at the end of its life. Collaborating extensively with the clients, the construction of this prototype building incorporated an educational process for the children, who learnt about recyclability and were asked to collect cardboard for its construction. The building is multifunctional, incorporating a changing room, toilets and a classroom that can adapt to an after school club when needed. The prototype cardboard building was jointly funded by the project’s research partners and the Department for the Environment, Transport and the Regions (DETR) through the ‘Partners in Innovation’ programme”

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