Tobias Horrocks, the cardboard architect.
The Australian architect Tobias Horrocks, Fold Theory founder, has spent a few days in Murcia visiting CartonLab as part of his particular “European tour” in which he investigates cardboard architecture, design practices and digital modeling techniques developed around the cardboard. Horrocks got a fellowship provided by the Australian government to encourage innovation that is intended to improve the local sustainable design by visiting other professionals that use cardboard in different creative areas. We took his visit to make this brief interview, in which we were able to deepen his work and his ideas.
How did you start in this cardboard world?
I started in the cardboard architecture world with a design for a modular furniture that could be used as well as chair and bookcase. I decided to adapt an attractive and geometric curve and I sought to produce it in very light materials. It was at that moment when I started to investigate how it could be built on cardboard. The process took a long time since I did not know the cardboard manufacturing technology, but I was fascinated by the fact that it was sustainable and environmentally friendly.
What is the philosophy behind Fold Theory?
“Fold Theory” investigates about getting very resistant structures by folding weaker materials. For example, I have designed a chair made by a very thin cardboard but many folders make it functional. On the other hand, the general philosophy of the company is to encourage the world to see short-term projects with a different perspective, encouraging the use of more appropriate materials to its duration. I am aware that contemporary society constantly demands new and modern products. I believe that designing objects that will last a long time goes against that trend, so my work is ephemeral and recyclable.
Who do you think is the perfect client for these cardboard projects? Who do you normally work for?
The perfect client for me is always my last customer. My last project was for a big art gallery that held a temporary book fair. Such projects are great because the cardboard is an ideal material for building ephemeral architecture. The cardboard is more competitive in terms of price, it is most versatile in terms of design possibilities and more sustainable environmentally speaking. Other materials such as wood or metal have more problems, especially when you have to think about what you will do with all this material once the event ends. In this case, part of the book fair was recycled, and the other part I keep it in my studio.
Most of my work is aimed at companies dedicated to organizing events and marketing agencies. I recently participated in a project of scenery for a seminar organized by Adobe in Sydney. They had a large LED screen on which images were projected and they asked me to design a triangular structure made of cardboard panels that were five and a half meters high. It was used only for that day and then it was recycled.
What is the most difficult project you have faced?
The harder the project is the more I enjoy making it, I enjoy making the impossible possible. Two particularly difficult projects come to mind when you ask me that. The first one was about a design that had over 250 different pieces and assembling them all together took two days. The second one was about building large curved walls designed by another architect who I convinced to let me undertake the design in cardboard. The difficult part was to adapt the geometry of the surface and uneven curve with cardboard. To do this I had to perform tasks including pattern, as people do for clothing design.
How do you see your future as an architect in relation with this cardboard arquitectura project?
I still think that one day I will be able to combine both. My architectural perspective of the projects is clear. Otherwise, I also think that any design is just a design, no matter the material, support or scale, it is about to try to solve a problem and an aesthetic challenge.
What countries are you visiting in this cardboard tour? Why did you choose them and what do you expect to get from your visit?
I am visiting Germany, Spain and Italy, in addition to Poland and the Czech Republic. In Germany, I will visit Stange Design and in Spain, I mainly come to visit CartonLab, although I have also met with other designers from Cardboard Furniture and projects. My main mission is to visit those places that promote this industry and see how they work in relation to what I do. My goal is also to discover the most effective and efficient way in terms of financial, commercial and environmentally, to give life to projects in cardboard. In my opinion, architects, designers, and decorators should use cardboard, but they do not because of ignorance or because they do not know the right way to use it.
How is your Spanish experience going? What is your impression about the Spanish firms involved in cardboard design? Is there anything remarkable that called your attention so far?
This visit to CartonLab is being very interesting, as I am learning the way you manipulate the cardboard, also the sophisticated processing and the architectural approach that you give to your work. The experience has been great, I’m interested in the fact that it involves a lot of work for you to produce designs and you do not see yourself forced to sell them in a store. On the contrary, I am more focused on the sale of the item, though, as an architect, what I like to do is to design.
It’s my first time in Spain and although I do not know the language I am trying to learn. In Australia, we do not have the mix of history and contemporary that European cities have, and I find that fascinating.
Australia seems to be one of the leaders’ countries in cardboard design, what do you think that is the reason for that?
I’m surprised to hear that, perhaps the financial situation is better and we have good resources. In addition, Australia currently is internationally known for its architecture, and that is related to the higher education of the Australian population. There is a stream of design freedom because we do not have the pressure of history, making it a less conservative and more willing to innovate country. Australia also attracts highly qualified people who come to work from Europe, which makes my country a multicultural place. However, we perceive the opposite, that Europe is the leader due to its more socially rooted ecological awareness.
What do you plan to do with these cardboard traveling experiences after you go back to Australia?
This trip is possible because I was awarded with a fellowship from the Australian government, so once completed I have to write a report. On the other hand, I also partially work for a design magazine writing critical articles about architecture, so I also will write about my trip.