The House That Paper Built

Stefan Weisenberger

origami-architectureI asked my daughter to fold me a paper house.

It took a few minutes, and she presented me this beautiful piece of architecture, rather a fast prototype. I recalled the fairy tale of the huffing and puffing wolf and also had my concerns around fire and rain.

So, how about you? Would you move into a house made of paper? Or would you prefer a building made of concrete?

Fire, water, and earthquake-proof and 12-times lighter than concrete

Swiss architect Fredy Iseli and this company Ecocell AG won the Construction & Living category of the GreenTec Award, Europe’s biggest environment award, for Ecocell’s sustainable concrete honeycomb material. The Ecocell building elements are a fascinating crossover of two very different materials – concrete and corrugated board – plus some nature-inspired innovation.

The panels are made from 100% renewable resources like wood, fibers, and raw paper recovered from recycled paper and cardboard packaging. The self-engineered cardboard panels have a hollow honeycomb-like cell structure, which is then coated in cement. After the coating, the dried elements are planked with wood panels. The resulting sandwich of corrugated board, cement, and wood is then industrially manufactured into modular building elements which can be easily joined together.

The resulting building material offers a high thermal insulation and fire protection and it’s very lightweight, making it possible to build manually, or with only light lifting tools, on the building site.

Germany’s international broadcaster “Deutsche Welle” featured Ecocell in a recent video. And DirectIndustry’s e-magazine talked directly to Fredy Iseli about his innovation. Find the interview here.

Breaking industry boundaries

In a recent Digitalist blog, Alfred Becker wrote about new business models and the shift to new, more profitable products and markets: from Sappi’s highly profitable shift to dissolving pulp (which is used in textiles like lingerie or sportswear) to UPM’s “Biofore” initiative to provide a fiber- and biomass-based sustainable alternative to mineral oil including biorefineries, base chemicals, and bioplactics.

I recently visited Europe’s largest textile research center, DITF, and was intrigued to see carbon- and glass-fibers weaved into new, high-end composite materials for lightweight automotive performance parts, aerospace, and defense applications. The ancient textile technologies of weaving, spinning, and knitting are applied to fascinating new use cases like 3D-knitting, smart- and e-textiles, or entirely new 3D-fiber-based structures. A wide variety of materials like Kevlar, Nylon, glass fiber, metal, carbon, or bio-based yarns are combined and transformed into new materials – competing with things like steel or aluminum for car parts.

Ecocell’s composite material is another example of “transforming industries” to enter into new markets – blending characteristics of corrugated packaging, concrete, and wood, and competing with classical wood or concrete construction elements.


Transformation is happening all over the mill products industry. Commoditization, overcapacity, and cost pressures dominated the discussions in the past years.

Today, we see innovators moving beyond their industry boundaries seeking higher profits and new markets, pushing plant operations to new efficiency levels with new digital technologies like the industrial Internet of Things or applying digital commerce strategies known from the B2C context.

For a deeper dive into innovations in the building products industry, download the white paper Digital Transformation in Building Products.

About Stefan Weisenberger

Stefan Weisenberger is a Director at SAP, responsible for the Industry Strategy, Industry Solution Definition & Portfolio Management for the Mill Products & Mining Business Unit.