City of Trees Temporary Exhibition Enclosures


  • Fold Theory
  • Jyll Bradley
  • Nagan Johnson Architects
  • Thylacine


This design arrived flat-packed and was assembled without tools or adhesives. The origin of the material is resonant in the design as it depicts the base of a giant tree. Each cardboard spiral stands 3.2m tall with a girth of 4.2m. City of Trees was a temporary exhibition commissioned by the Centenary of Canberra for the National Library of Australia. The design task was to support the sound installations of artist Jyll Bradley by creating a private space for listening and contemplation. The result was a sustainable cardboard structure that not only challenged the preconceptions of cardboard but exceeded them.

Key Features


Impact on industry

This project is an exemplar of sustainability in the temporary event design industry. Cardboard is an ideal but under-utilised solution where functional and promotional structures need to be mobile and transportable. Engineered intelligently, it can be extremely strong, as evidenced by the folded bench seats. Made from 100% cardboard, the design was 100% recyclable. It utilised different grades of board varying between 100% and 70% recycled content, with the remainder comprised of wood pulp sourced from sustainably managed Australian plantation timber. The structures were light and flat-packed to transport. No power tools were necessary for construction.


Transformation of expectations

The design opened up unexpected possibilities for the Centenary of Canberra to re-use the structures in other contexts, making their initial investment even more economical. Slotted together without glue, the structures were demounted and stored flat for several months, before being reconfigured and repurposed in two different venues for the Centenary\’s You Are Here arts festival (March 2014).


Problem solving

The design challenges included negotiating entry to the space which was restricted to a small goods lift, and protecting a vulnerable parquetry floor. Initial concepts considered timber construction however a move to 100% cardboard better addressed the constraints of the project. Cardboard was adaptable, light-weight and readily computer-fabricated to achieve the complex double-curved geometry. It was also cheaper to produce than a traditional timber structure.


Innovating with geometry

This is design is possible due to computer-generated design and fabrication.

The complex geometric structure was comprised of 79 unique and 14 duplicate pieces, each carrying a unique identification code for correct assembly sequence. The code was developed specifically for the project, a modified version of roman numerals so that when cut into the cardboard would be aesthetically abstract and not make any holes. A bespoke flat-packed \’scaffolding\’ system was developed to assemble the portals, also made from cardboard. This ensured that the pieces were aligned precisely and allowed for computer-cut tolerances. 

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