A titanic Thai-inspired temple just popped up in Chiang Mai—but instead of gold leaf and teak, this one’s built entirely of cardboard. Assembled in less than a day, the prefabricated building is the latest work of Olivier Grossetete, a prolific French artist who specializes in cardboard architecture. Those who hope to gaze upon the temple of cardboard should hurry—the ephemeral building will come down on Sunday for recycling.
Temples are woven into the urban fabric of Thailand, and this new Thai temple of cardboard is no exception. The ephemeral building is located at Tha Phae Gate, an ancient city gate on the east side of the Old City and a popular site for community events. Built for Chiang Mai Design Week, the temporary pavilion will stay up for the duration of the five-day event, held every year to celebrate the city’s creative talents.
French embassy official Vanessa Silvy facilitated the project, bringing Marseille-born artist Olivier Grossetete and his design team in contact with TCDC Chiang Mai, an educational design center and resource, as well as the cardboard box supplier Siam Cement Group (SCG). The project also received support from Institut français and the city of Marseille.
A prolific artist, Olivier Grosstete began dabbling in cardboard 15 years ago and now installs cardboard architecture around the world. He recently completed cardboard projects in five cities in China two weeks prior to Chiang Mai. The crux of his work goes beyond just cardboard. His site-specific projects focus on community and collaboration, and take a team of volunteers—often people who begin as curious passersby—to realize the giant cardboard buildings.
“Each time I’m invited to a city, I try to work with the image of existing buildings,” said Olivier Grosstete to Inhabitat. “For example, I might make a cardboard Eiffel Tower in Paris or some special monument of the city. But every time the city and the people will help choose what will be built, like with this temple that’s based off of a famous Chiang Mai attraction.”
The Chiang Mai installation measures 11 by 14 meters at the base and 15 meters at its highest point. Construction began with a four-day workshop, where a team of 20 to 30 students and volunteers from the community helped construct the individual architectural elements. The pieces were marked in the order of assembly before being transported to the site. The building process shares similarities with traditional Thai construction, particularly temples, which were historically prefabricated for easy disassembly and reconstruction.
No ladders or cranes were used in assembly. “We started with assembling the roof,” explains Grosstete. “And after, with the audience, we lifted the completed roof and slid the next pieces underneath and taped them together.”
“Construction is simple in the beginning because it’s very light,” adds Silvy about the bottom-up assembly process that began with the roof ended with the supporting pillars. “We had 40 people assembling the building. Other people who came by also began to help. It’s amazing because we might not speak the same language, but we can communicate with each other just through body movement.” As a safety precaution against strong winds, two ropes are attached to the building and anchored by 1,000-liter water tanks on opposite sides.
“The goal of the project is, of course, to create a beautiful building,” says Silvy. “But more importantly, this building teaches us that you may go faster alone, but work together and you’ll go farther.” She described how, in addition to the existing team of builders, curious passersby joined in assembly as well. Some of those people ended up staying the entire day.
The teardown of the cardboard temple will take place on Sunday, December 6 from 4 to 6 PM. SCG will take the cardboard away for recycling. Olivier Grosstete will be traveling to Sardinia on Saturday for his next cardboard project. He has completed 25 cardboard projects to date this year.
Images © Lucy Wang