Environmental Design / Paper Power

A group of students from Shenkar College of Engineering and Design have spent the past two weeks fashioning various household items from old Haaretz newspapers.

The resulting work by the group from the college's interior design and environment department feature in an exhibition that opens tomorrow at Tel Aviv's G complex.

The 25 students split into groups to create three objects - a lampshade, room divider and chair - each made using various techniques of working with paper.

The head of Shenkar's interior building department, Prof. Shraga Kirshner, who formulated the concept, explains that he drew inspiration for the project from a law enacted in the Netherlands that prohibits the eviction of a person or group of people from an abandoned building so long as they have a table, bed and a lock on the door there.

Ahead of the exhibition, called "What words are made of," three paper artists who work with different techniques were chosen to work with the students in a two-week workshop - Ruth Mergi, who works in paper cutting, Liat Binyamini Ariel, who works with papier-mache, and Ilan Garibi, who specializes in origami and whose paper lampshade designs have been featured at design week events in Milan and New York and are sold all over the world.

Some of the students treated paper as a simple raw material. Others tried to adhere to the meaning of the newspaper's text, image or graphic design and integrate it into their work. "The goal is to create a dynamic atmosphere alongside the other displays in the exhibition," a joint project between Shenkar and Haaretz, explains Kirshner.

Masha Gavish designed a delicate divider made of a randomly chosen series of pages from the Haaretz Gallery section. Along the length of the divider, holes appear in the newspaper in the shape of Hebrew letters. This flow, according to Gavish, hints at a fall and alienation, as opposed to the stability expressed by the printed paper.

Paper's wasted potential

In Israel there is very limited use of paper in construction, partly because of a number of fire and safety regulations that complicate the planning process and make it difficult to use innovative materials. Kirshner feels that paper has tremendous potential for the Israeli construction industry because unlike concrete, which is used overwhelmingly in construction here, it is a material that is readily available, inexpensive, flexible and recyclable.

The use of paper as a construction material developed in Japan over 1,000 years ago, mostly for interior design. In the 20th century, with the development of new production technologies, paper began appearing in a range of design and architectural works in the East and West. Most notable among them is the work of Japanese architect Shigeru Ban, who uses recycled rolls of paper to build shelter for survivors of natural disasters. Following the devastating earthquake in eastern Japan around a year ago, he built dozens of temporary paper houses that were set up in gyms in the catastrophe zone.

In addition to Ban's clever use of paper, there are also several examples of houses made of actual newspapers. The first newspaper house was built in Massachusetts in 1922 by amateur inventor Ellis Stenman, who wanted to test paper's durability and its ability to insulate. The frame of the house is actually made of wooden pillars and beams, but the filling in the walls and all the furniture - including a grand piano - are made out of paper. Stenman invented the glue used for the construction - a mixture of flour, water and apple peels. Even though the paper yellowed and started crumbling over the years, the house today remains open to visitors.

In recent years, several artists and architects have tried to use newspapers that are usually thrown away after being read to build objects that make an artistic and political statement. British artist Sumer Erek, for example, created a house from 80,000 rolled-up editions of the free British newspaper Metro. "It's a project that tries to make public use of a public space with public garbage," said the artist, who placed his building in a London square for several days. Unfortunately, the erratic British weather overpowered the work.