The Brothers Bouroullec

Today, I took a bike ride down the side of Lake Michigan for my inaugural visit to the Museum of Contemporary Art in Chicago. Despite having lived here for more than a year, I've never made it down to the MCA. Sitting in the shadow of the Hancock building and Mies' Lakeshore towers, the building is a strict concrete box.
They seem to favor the blue and green.
The show that finally lured me downtown was Ronan and Erwan Bouroullec: Bivouac. The Bouroullecs are French brothers, born in the early 1970s, who have been practicing since the mid-nineties. They first started garnering some serious attention around the time I was an undergraduate studying architecture, popping up in the design glossies and various museums. By 2009, when they appeared in Gary Hustwit's industrial design documentary Objectified, they had ascended to a rare plane, working across the borders of art, architecture, furniture design, design theory, and mass-market manufacturing. They have produced pieces for  CappelliniLigne Roset, Alessi, and Vitra, amongst others.

L-R: Michael Darling, Erwan Bouroullec, Ronan Bouroullec.


Bent Cardboard II

A few weeks back, I began an experiment, attempting to create curved, structural panels of laminated cardboard. The first shells, adhered with wheatpaste and cured in a mold, came out quite well. I buried some strips of Masonite in the edges so that they would hold a fastener, then trimmed them neat and square on the table saw.

Frame layout. Designed it in AutoCAD, then sketched on paper because I don't have a printer.
Next loomed the question of a frame. Cardboard chairs tend to acquire quite a bit of bulk as they try to solve structural problems with a weak material. I wanted to make a visually light, slim-lined frame that would highlight the cardboard shells, so I turned to plywood. Ken Isaac's book, which I recently wrote about, had a lengthy investigation of plywood stress-skin structures, which gave me some ideas about how to make a stiff structure out of a thin, flexible material. 

Otherwise obsolete hand-drafting skills still come in handy sometimes . . .


The Paper Cycle

Last week, just as I was working on a new cardboard chair, there was an article in the Chicago Reader called The Floating Forest, about the strange trip undertaken by our wastepaper. Thirty years ago, most of America's recycled paper was processed domestically, including a number of large mills throughout the Midwest. Beginning in the nineties, a Hong Kong entrepreneur, Cheung Yan, began filling empty shipping containers with wastepaper and shipping them back to China. There, her factories turned them into cardboard to make boxes for TVs, computers, cellphones, and so the cycle continued.

Baled wastepaper is now an internationally traded commodity. In 2008, prices plunged as the global recession put a crimp in consumer spending. Newspapers, another large paper consumer, have seen their readership shrink as news moves online. Recently, however, prices are back up in the face of Asian demand. With one ton trading at about $100, New York has seen a rise in the theft of baled paper. China, whose forest cover suffered over the last fifty years of industrialization, has a seemingly insatiable demand for the stuff. The paper-less society promised by the internet hasn't materialized, and, worldwide, consumption doubled between 1980 and 2000.