As our four weeks of architectural technics workshop continue, this week, we are working with buildings' construction - load bearing and such. Our lectures on the subject are accompanied by minor projects (usually two or three day projects really), which test our understandings of the whole engineers' point of view. As our first mini project assignment for the week, we were to design a load-bearing structure entirely out of paper.

The assignment was more specific than that though. We were to design a load-bearing paper structure out of no more than two A4 sheets of paper, and a single 5cm piece of string. This structure was afterwards to be placed on a 25cm gap - Like a bridge if you will - And attempt to carry as much weigth as possible, before collapsing. Having had a quick introduction to paper as a material, we quickly learned that it is stronger than one would expect. I would have shown photos of our design to make things easier, but unfortunately I didn't have my camera with me on the day, and my cell phone has issues uploading pictures - So instead, above and bellow are our concept sketches (we were in a three student group, if I didn't mention this before). We started off by attempting to build a triangular bridge structure, which obviously had potential, but wasn't strong enough yet. After that, we tried a round tube, which made great use and strength of the paper, but still lacked some stability. Having tried both ideas, we decided to shove the tube into the triangular structure in order to make an unstable exterior structure, while maintaining a solid, strong interior structure (as illustrated above). The structure was added a thin paper "line" to the construction, where a hook could hang for the weights that were to be placed, and also so that the pressure from the weights is sent to the massive structure, furthering its strength.

The result was a highly efficient load-bearing structure. During the try-outs today, it did rather well - It managed to hold 6,5 kilograms before collapsing (our paper construction weighed no more than 10 grams!). In other words, our paper structure was able to hold 650 times its own weight! Unfortunately our structure didn't score first prize amongst the different paper structure made by the other groups. We managed to get a 4th place among about 14 groups. The 2nd and 3rd place went to two structures that had a similar concept to ours, but apparently ones that were more stable. The first place went to an entirely different concept, and I must admit, one that was most impressive. It went to two boys who had made a spider-like structure that rested its columns on the edges of the gap - Thus concentrating the pressure created onto four different points. They used solid, massive paper columns on a vertical plane, which dramatically strengthened their structure. It went on to hold about 20kg! The known record is assumed to be 28kg at the architectural school, while our workshop teachers claimed that paper structures created by professionals have managed to hold weights at about 50kgs! This excersise has really been a huge eye-opener for me on the subject of paper constructions. Having always had an interest in the works of architects such as Shigeru Ban, I am glad to finally have a clear understanding of the potential of paper, and who knows, perhaps I might try out working with it some day.

Further reading:

- Andy Minchev