Paper chain

Gillian Thomas looks at paper’s myriad possibilities as she leafs through a compendium of novel and dynamic contemporary applications that are pushing the envelope of pulp’s creative potential

Gillian Thomas looks at paper’s myriad possibilities as she leafs through a compendium of novel and dynamic contemporary applications that are pushing the envelope of pulp’s creative potential

Yesterday’s visionaries predicted we would now be working in a paperless office, where electronic communication would be king. In practice, paper is still very much part of our everyday lives and continues to be embraced by designers.

Its full versatility is explored by More Paperwork, the long-awaited second book from Nancy Williams of Williams & Phoa fame, with a wide range of examples from a number of design disciplines. Whereas Paperwork, published by Phaidon in 1993, was limited to graphic design and packaging, this second book ventures further into the worlds of product, furniture, fashion and even architecture.

It starts with a brief history of paper, beginning with its origins in China around the end of the 1st century, where it was created as a better way to record information than bamboo or silk. Williams then tracks its development to new levels of sophistication in Japan, the source of some of the most ground-breaking designs in the book – for instance, washable paper or architect Shigeru Ban’s emergency paper-log housing, created in the wake of the Kobe earthquake.

The examples featured take you on a wonderful journey through the world of everyday objects and sensational creations. From the simple folding of a single sheet of paper, to creating a client’s initial for a stationery range, to an intricate pop-up building depicting the futuristic (and aborted) Daniel Libeskind building for the Victoria & Albert Museum. There are books that are quite literally ‘held’ together by a rubber band or by imaginatively reinventing traditional binding, alongside DIY stamps for the Royal Mail and origami snowballs for Christmas. Paper is mixed with many other materials such as a damask tablecloth and Astroturf. Or there is a brochure inside a watering can and – conversely – paper that looks like a tin can.

Paper is incredibly flexible; it can be laminated, used as cardboard tubes or moulded as papier mâché. The environmental virtues of paper are elegantly illustrated in the construction of the Hanover Expo pavilion. Then there are exquisite lace-laden costumes, flowing stencil gowns and an airmail dress, as well as sculptural sea anemones, intricate light fittings and a papier mâché cat pod.

The book ends with a truly individual honeycomb-formed chair, proving we have come a long way from the paper decorations I used to hang on the Christmas tree at home.

But there is one disappointing aspect to the book – the chapter openers. They are intended as an interactive feature, creating a series of special effects that are designed to be finished by the reader. Obviously a lot of thought and effort has gone into these pages, but they did not work for me. I found them either too simplistic, in the case of the feature paper inserts or print effects, or too fiddly to be bothered with, in the case of the more intricate cut-and-fold examples.

That quibble apart, More Paperwork successfully demonstrates the tremendous versatility and beauty of paper, and I’m sure it will become a valued reference book for many designers, sitting proudly along side its predecessor.

It will inspire another generation of designers to push the boundaries further still. Let’s hope we see Yet More Paperwork before 2015.

More Paperwork: Exploring the potential of paper in design and architecture is published this month by Phaidon, price £29.95

Gillian Thomas is creative consultant at The Partners

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