Portrait of Tammy Strobel
My Reading Room

The simple but brilliant idea of using cardboard to create creative and functional structures came to Adrian Chua while he was under pressure to find a solution to a project. Realising that this idea had greater potential, he and wife Irene Ng have since grown a business turning everyday paper- based materials such as cardboard into attention-grabbing 3-D installations, decor, structures, scenography and more. 

Why the specialisation in paper? 

As a kid, I was fascinated by pop-up books and how a flat sheet of paper is able to become a 3-D work of art. Whenever I’m at a bookstore, I still browse the kids’ section for pop-up books that I can buy for my four- and seven-year-old daughters. My interest in paper pop-ups has reached the level of obsession… 

How did this idea come about? 

I was a production manager at a multinational advertising agency, and had to fulfil a client’s brief by making a 2m-tall freestanding directional sign, which had to be collapsible, lightweight, eco-friendly and cheap. It had to be completed in time for the client to carry it on a flight to Tokyo for the event, so I proposed using cardboard, and had it fabricated in just two days. 

Besides cardboard, what other materials do you integrate into your projects? 

We use folding and slotting techniques to minimise the use of adhesives or any plastic joints. Should there be a need to add weights to stabilise the cardboard structure, we use large PET bottles filled with water, or even used car batteries. Our products are 100 percent recyclable and upcycled. 

What are the benefits of using paper?

Paper is a sustainable material that’s very accessible and easy to work with. The applications are endless, so there’s never a dull moment at work! Also, materialising a paper product from the design stage to manufacturing can be accomplished within a day – a dream come true, for most product designers. 

What’s the design and construction process like? 

It can be quite a complex process, if you don’t have the experience of flattening carton boxes or unfolding French fries holders! (laughs) Once we have a 3-D visual of a product, the design team will have to “think flat” and determine where the folding and cut lines should be on a cardboard sheet. The structural design is sent to a large format digital flatbed cutter for cutting and creasing. Finally, the fun part is to form it by hand, and be amazed at how it transforms into a 3-D object! 

Who are your clients and what sort of projects have you done? 

We have clients from almost every industry and received all kinds of enquiries for creations to be made from paper and cardboard, including packaging boxes, exhibition booths, art installations, kids’ furniture, as well as cat playhouses and even coffins. 

Tell me about your favourite project.

One of my favourite projects was to create an instant pop-up cafe — like a giant pop-up book that opens up to become a breakfast table with chairs — for the launch of a new product by Quaker in Shanghai. It was a very successful campaign and the client was so pleased with being the first to launch a literal pop-up cafe!