Young designer WooJai Lee has put together a project called PaperBricks, which explores the way we could use recycled paper as a durable material strong enough for us to build furniture, or in construction elements of the home.
Paper is one of those materials we use a lot. It also happens to be something we can easily recycle. But each time paper is recycled, the natural fibers get shredded making them smaller and weaker, until eventually the fibers are just too short to work together. The quality downgrades and the cycle cannot continue. So WooJai’s aims were to create something new, sustainable and long lasting with this recycled paper.
A Korean-Zealander, WooJai has recently graduated from Design Academy Eindhoven in the Netherlands. All three of these countries have a strong recycling ethic, so it is not too surprising that recycling was at the forefront of WooJai’s mind.
Well, I started this project from a question which rose when I was taking out my trash. As you mentioned, the three countries are good with recycling, so I was just doing my weekly routine of taking out my paper trash, and I realized how much paper we throw away. And most of it was newspapers and advertisements which we only read for a few minutes. I felt that the life span of the paper was very short, and thought maybe I could do something about this.
WooJai’s paper bricks are made from recycled newspapers. The newspaper is turned into pulp, which is then mixed with glue and shaped into bricks. Sturdy as real bricks, they combine a pleasing marbled look with the warmth and soft tactile nature of paper. When you touch the bricks, you can feel a textile-like softness.
Using the PaperBricks, the ‘PaperBricks Pallet’ series was created to show off different ways to build the bricks into furniture. The bricks have been used to construct a bench and two coffee tables.
Did you work with pulp and paper in other ways before the PaperBricks project?
As a child, my mother showed me how to make masks and piñatas using paper pulp. Other than that, I had no special experience with paper. Therefore, I had to start from scratch; researching, experimenting and developing. The goal I had was to make the paper much more stronger and to have a longer lasting function. I tried to make the paper strong so that I could build furniture with it. I was experimenting different types of paper, different mixes, different ratio, different techniques of making, etc. Until I found the right formula and technique for making PaperBricks.
Do you think this could become an inexpensive way for us to furnish our homes? Or how do you envision these paper materials used in the future?
Paper is an interesting material. It can be used in various ways from just a simple page of a notebook to fabric for clothing. It’s also strong and beautiful like my PaperBricks.
What’s also great is that it is material which can easily be recycled. So I think it will be a good sign, if we see a lot more recycled paper being used in various ways, fulfilling our material needs while playing our role in the recycle process.
What are you hoping to do with the PaperBricks next?
My next goal with the PaperBricks is to develop it further into interior materials such as wall panels, room dividers, objects and of course more furniture series. I want to create my world out of PaperBricks. So keep an eye on me, there is still a lot more to come!
WooJai’s PaperBricks collection will be exhibiting at the Dutch Design Week 2016 in the Netherlands in October.
Design: WooJai Lee
Photos: WooJai Lee
This interview has been edited for clarity and length.