Barkow Leibinger

Barkow Leibinger
Schillerstraße 94, D–10625 Berlin
T +49(0)30 315712 -0 F -29

Cardboard Merzbau - Chicago Architecture Biennial 2023

Cardboard Merzbau aggregates recycled cardboard tubes of varying diameters and lengths, recalling the original “Merzbau” construction by Dada artist Kurt Schwitters in 1923 in Hanover: a collage of various elements re-configuring an existing historical interior. This original “Merzbau” was a construction that composed a three-dimensional collage or abstract grotto.

For the Chicago Cultural Center, North Entrance Lobby our proposal juxtaposes low-tech, ad hoc, as-found cardboard tubes contrasting the formal monumentality of the lobby. The Cardboard Merzbau will create an abstract, immersive environment that can be explored and experienced by the exhibition’s visitors. The aggregated cardboard tubes are bundled together to create undulating surfaces that are self-supporting and enhance the movement and spatiality of the room. 

The installation also references the design history of the Container Corporation of America, who in the 1940s used cardboard packaging to advocate for greater social and environmental awareness in the United States through collaboration with Bauhaus artists and designers who had relocated to Chicago after WWII, forming the New Bauhaus. This history comes at a moment when demand for cardboard packaging has increased exponentially as a result of pandemic-era online ordering, overtaking supply capacity and increasing the cardboard industry’s carbon footprint. The installation begs the question whether cardboard can become architectural in its second life.

If this is a rehearsal for a world to come then the Cardboard Merzbau will serve as a prototype for an architecture of recyclable cardboard that can form walls and spaces, columns and doors, furniture, and finishes, for living and working in a world to come. 




Project Information

Barkow Leibinger, Berlin, Frank Barkow, Regine Leibinger

Stefan Sauter (Project Architect), Ava Hill, Nicolai Junkers, Frederico Lepre, Reidar Mester, Andreas Mohling


Prototype, Group Exhibition




Nov 01, 2023 - Feb 11, 2024


Chicago Architecture Biennial


Cory Dewald, Tom Harris

Drawings and model photos

Barkow Leibinger, Berlin