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Dynamic and sustainable paper

The experiment with paper is ambitious and fundamental, but requires general research and development. Integrated architectural and engineering design can be married with innovation and the use of sustainable building materials and systems.

Lubica Paper Summit 2023

Giulia Bertolucci

Giulia Bertolucci, coordinator of the National Institute of Bioarchitecture – Lucca section, and curator of the Architecture & Design sector within Lucca Biennale Cartasia, is a key figure in promoting the use of paper and cardboard in architecture.

The Biennale has launched a publication series focused on these materials. The first book collects design proposals as well as research by professionals, students, and artists for the production of new components for furniture and architecture. Bertolucci emphasizes how in the field of architecture, it is often believed that the robustness of a material is directly proportional to its durability over time, yet this conception has been refuted in the past, starting with Buckminster Fuller in the 1950s, who demonstrated how lightweight structures could be equally resilient and stable. This paved the way for the use of paper and cardboard in architecture and design to the extent that today, cardboard furniture such as tables, chairs, and lamps, has become almost commonplace.

During the panel, Giulia Bertolucci presented several examples of projects and applications in Europe and around the world (such as in Japan, thanks to the visionary Shigeru Ban) that confirm how paper and cardboard can be used innovatively and even structurally. These cases include buildings, temporary installations, furniture, musical instruments, and solutions for emergency situations. Paper and cardboard offer environmental benefits, such as recyclability and lightweight, along with thermal properties that contribute to energy efficiency. Knowledge of such examples can help raise public awareness and potentially influence a revision of regulations regarding the structural use of paper and cardboard in architecture.

The panel also introduced Luca Ofria from the ATI Project studio and Dario Distefano from Archicart.

ATI Project

Luca Ofria, a member of the Research & Development team at ATI PROJECT, shared with the audience the exciting journey of their company into the world of paper. This experience began many years ago and continues to this day, constantly pushing the boundaries of creativity and innovation. It all began in 2001 when ATI Project introduced the concept of "Generative Circularity" as fundamental to their mission. This approach aims to create generative projects that can be replicated and adapted to different situations, always placing a focus on environmental sustainability.

ATI Project's journey involves several phases: it starts with the initial idea, then moves on to design and planning. During this phase, optimizations are made to define the ideal form, and thorough analyses of the materials to be used are conducted. Prototyping is a crucial phase of the process. Scale models are created to evaluate the feasibility of ideas. These models provide valuable insight and guide the team's decisions. Production is a fundamental step in ATI Project's journey and involves collaboration with Materieunite, a company specialized in the production of elements for exhibition environments. Their expertise and support made possible the installation of the first exhibition, lasting a week, at the Fuorisalone in 2022. Thanks to networking, particularly through the acquaintance of the director of Il Sole 24 Ore, ATI Project obtained the opportunity to participate in Lucca Biennale Cartasia with a bespoke project.

ATI Project's projects stem from embryonic ideas and undergo thorough analysis. They start with the modular form, represented by a sort of hollowed-out "Y," followed by the study of joints to ensure the solidity of the structure. Subsequently, the production phase takes place in collaboration with the Materieunite team. Each piece, although similar to others, is made with different types of cardboard. Each piece is equipped with a code to ensure correct assembly and identify corresponding base and ends. For this work, four types of cardboard were used, two triple-layered with different grammages and two honeycomb structures with different weights depending on their position in the work. During the exhibition at Fuorisalone, educational workshops were planned, especially for children, in collaboration with the featured artists. These workshops allowed participants to create artworks using cardboard scraps, raising awareness of the world of paper and recycling. Subsequently, attention shifted to the installation at Palazzo Ducale, which required a different approach, no longer in height but in length, to make the best use of sunlight and respect the historic environment. Finally, ATI Project shared the experience of creating a postgraduate workshop, involving students in the creation of scale models and miniatures to explore the creative process. A master's student will also be present at LUBICA 2024 to collaborate with ATI Project on the realization of a new installation.


Dario Distefano is the spokesperson for Archicart, an innovative SME founded in 2015 in Giarre, in the province of Catania. Archicart's approach revolutionizes the concept of "temporary architecture," traditionally understood as architecture intended to last for a short time, often characterized by the use of materials that generate waste, often special waste. Archicart challenges some of the fundamental principles of traditional architecture and engineering, emphasizing change. Their corporate mission focuses on creating a new form of architecture using corrugated cardboard. Distefano explains how much of the mechanical resistance of the sheets lies in the corrugation of the corrugated cardboard, which becomes a significant aesthetic element within architecture.

This concept of "temporariness" is evident in the case studies presented. For example, in museum installations, Archicart expands the exhibition surface of museum spaces without damaging buildings of great cultural value. Also, at the Embassy of France to the Holy See in Rome, where the Baths of Nero are characterized by 99.9% humidity, the introduction of corrugated cardboard does not compromise the historic environment. The walls made by Archicart require few assembly operations and feature completely dry external fixing guides. These walls are characterized by moisture-resistant finish and can maintain constant temperature and internal humidity. Distefano provided concrete examples, such as a gym in Milan, where the walls, already finished in the workshop, are mounted on wooden guides by external workers within a day. Similarly, mobile walls on hinged wheels aim for rapid assembly, usability, and a high-quality end result.

In education-related contexts, Archicart's approach emphasizes the reuse of residual spaces. With the evolution of education and the need for flexible spaces, mobile walls allow for rapid reconfiguration of environments, overcoming the stark aspect of reinforced concrete typical of schools from the 1970s and 1980s. Archicart's challenge has been to create mobile walls that comply with rigorous safety regulations. Finally, in the Corsica National Park, Archicart created a visionary "cardboard house" with a load-bearing structure made of cardboard. Thanks to advanced studies, it was possible to create a panel capable of supporting a central compression of approximately 8000 kilograms.

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