Paper Thin: Incredible Inhabitable Spaces Made From Paper

We've all heard of construction paper—it's a staple of kids' crafts—but what about constructing actual livable houses from paper? The idea sounds unbelievable and presents a lot of questions, but some architects and builders are using paper as an economical and environmentally friendly building material. While paper might not be your first choice when building a new home, you may find some incredible inspiration from these unlikely structures.

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  1. Paper House


    Architect Shigeru Ban is famous for his innovative paper houses, which provide low-cost and effective temporary shelter as well as visual impact. This recyclable house is crafted from paper tubes with waterproof sponge tape for insulation.

    Related: Bob Vila's Architecture Bucket List—10 Must-See Wonders

  2. Shoji Room Dividers


    When it comes to building with paper, Japan has a long and storied history. Shoji screens and fusuma doors made from wood and paper can be found inside many traditional Japanese homes. The paper, which can be replaced when damaged, allows houses to keep cool in the summer and is earthquake friendly.

    Related: Divide and Conquer—10 Room Dividers to Bring Order to Your Space

  3. Disaster Housing


    Owners whose homes have sustained earthquake damage could find their way into a paper house designed by Shigeru Ban. This temporary housing is made from waterproofed paper and a tensile fabric roof. This 170-square-foot house costs under $2,000 and takes mere hours to build.

    Related: Be Prepared for Natural Disasters

  4. Wall of Books


    Forget the bookshelf! This New York eatery has an entire wall created from 12,000 discarded paperbacks. In the bar at Brushstroke, a Japanese restaurant, clumps of books are stacked in alternating directions to form very interesting, irregular bricks.

    Related: 5 Things to Do with… Unused Books

  5. Papercrete Home


    Believe it or not, this adobe-looking home is made of 95 percent recycled paper mixed with water and a small amount of cement—or papercrete. This environmentally friendly, low-cost material is lighter than concrete, making it easy to move, but it's still strong enough to build a house.

    Related: Should You Consider a Concrete House?

  6. Paper Kit Home


    This kit home is made entirely from recycled paper and costs less than $5,000 to build. Created by the Swiss company Wall AG, this 390-square-foot home is constructed of an innovative cellulose-based material that makes it incredibly strong and keeps it well insulated.

    Related: 16 Tiny Houses We Love

  7. Compressed Paper


    Inspired by a visit to the recycling station, the German architectural firm Dratz & Dratz designed this temporary workspace made from 550 bales of compressed paper from nearby grocery stores. The 2,045-square-foot space uses a minimal amount of wood for ceilings and windows.

    Related: 7 DIY Recycling Centers for Small Spaces

  8. Stone-Like Walls


    The papercrete walls in this stunning family home look almost like stone. Because papercrete isn't as sturdy as stone or brick, the walls are protected from the elements by a large roof, and while striking, they're not weight-bearing.

    Related: Brick Basics—Maintenance, Care, and Cleaning

  9. Wearing a Paper Bag


    Can you imagine how many paper bags it took to create this dramatic arched wall? Well, it took about 25,000 bags to construct this honeycomb-like interior at OWEN, a boutique in New York City. What an interesting way to warm up an industrial space!

    Related: 5 DIY Wood Wall Treatment Ideas

  10. Sustainable Living


    This unlikely house is built from recycled paper in the form of cellulose fiber. According to the builder, the structure is fireproof, termite-proof, and waterproof (it's survived several Indian monsoons). The 250-square-foot home includes a rain harvesting roof and solar panels for the ultimate in sustainability.

    Related: Quick Tip—Creating a Recycling Center at Home via npchip

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