New Ways to Build

Christchurch Cardboard Cathedral
Geof Wilson, via Flickr

What is your house made of? Christy VanArragon and Bruce Gulland look at new and unusual materials for buildings.

Watch Video


Voice 1 

Welcome to Spotlight. I’m Christy VanArragon.

Voice 2 

And I’m Bruce Gulland. Spotlight uses a special English method of broadcasting. It is easier for people to understand, no matter where in the world they live.

Voice 1 

What is your house made of? Is it made of wood or stone materials? Or does it have clay bricks, concrete, metal bars or glass? What about plastic or thick, paper cardboard?

Voice 2 

Buildings are made of many different kinds of things. Some buildings are strong and permanent. But other buildings are made to be temporary. Many people around the world live in temporary shelters. They build their homes with materials that are easy to find - like plastic or cardboard. They reuse old materials to make new homes. Usually, these homes are built to provide shelter for a low cost. They are not strong enough to last for a long time. And they are not usually designed to be beautiful

Voice 1 

But now, building designers are thinking about how to reuse these same simple materials to make stronger and more beautiful buildings. Today’s Spotlight is on buildings made from unusual materials.

Voice 2 

First, we travel to Christchurch, a city in New Zealand. In 2011 a large earthquake shook New Zealand. More than 100 people died in the city of Christchurch. The earthquake caused a lot of damage to property too. It destroyed the city’s cathedral. Christians have worshipped in this beautiful, old stone building for over 100 years. The cathedral was also a major center for the city. It was important for many people.

Voice 1 

Many other earthquakes had damaged the cathedral over the last 100 years. Each time, workers repaired the damage. But after the 2011 earthquake, repairs were not possible. After a long debate, the community decided to build a new cathedral. However, building a new cathedral takes a long time, and a lot of money. So, until workers complete the new cathedral, the community will use a temporary cathedral.

Voice 2 

Church leaders chose Shigeru Ban to design the temporary cathedral. Ban is an architect from Japan. He has a lot of experience designing temporary structures. Ban uses simple materials to build amazing buildings. One of his particular interests is using cardboard. Cardboard is made of paper, pressed together. It is often used to make boxes, and other simple containers. Cardboard does not cost very much money. So, Ban decided to design the temporary Christchurch cathedral from mostly cardboard.

Voice 1 

Ban’s Christchurch cardboard cathedral opened in August 2013. It stands 25 metres high. It looks like a large tent, with a high, pointed roof. Ban used huge round cardboard tubes to create the roof. There are more than 98 tubes, each up to 20 metres long! However, cardboard becomes soft in the rain. So the building includes a large plastic surface which covers the tubes.

Voice 2 

On one end of the cathedral, there are coloured windows, based on the beautiful windows in the old cathedral. The design also includes eight recycled metal shipping containers. The temporary cathedral is large - more than 700 people can sit inside. The building is also beautiful and strong. The temporary Christchurch cathedral could last up to 50 years! Ban designed it to be safe during future earthquakes. The materials did not cost a lot of money. And when the new, permanent, cathedral is finished, the cardboard cathedral can be recycled!

Voice 1 

Next, we travel to Taiwan, to the EcoArk. This building was built for the 2010 Taipei Flora Exhibition, a large plant show. Arthur Huang led the design of the EcoArk. The EcoArk building is large – 24 metres high. It is also strong. It had to resist wind, earthquakes and fire. But Huang did not use the usual building materials. Instead, he used recycled plastic bottles, called POLLI-Bricks.

Voice 2 

Huang started the company that makes POLLI-Bricks. First, they take old plastic bottles. Then, they melt and re-form these plastic bottles into a new shape: POLLI-Bricks! POLLI-Bricks look a little like a plastic bottle. Each brick even has a top that people can remove. But the bricks also have grooves cut into the side. These grooves make it possible to fit the bricks together. They do not need glue, or anything else, to keep them together. The fit is tight and the bricks do not move.

Voice 1 

To build the EcoArk, Huang used material from one and a half million old bottles. He built the POLLI-Bricks around a steel frame. The clear POLLI-Bricks are perfect for plants. They let the sun’s light and warmth into the building. Huang also designed the building with open areas, to bring in air from outside. The building was strong, beautiful and comfortable. It cost much less than other buildings in the Exhibition. And city official could take it apart and rebuild it somewhere else after the Exhibition.

Voice 2 

The EcoArk brought immediate attention to Huang and POLLI-Bricks. Now POLLI-Bricks are being used in other building projects around the world. Huang hopes that the bricks will be a good use for plastic waste - keeping plastic out of the world’s oceans and waste collection areas. Huang wants to make a real difference, by making buildings that are better for the environment.

Voice 1 

Finally, we travel to South Korea. Our final project also uses recycled materials. But it is something less serious. Choi Jeong-Hwa is an artist. He creates art using common objects. These things do not seem to be art materials. But when he puts them together, the result is special. Many of his projects are public art - art in public places, for everyone to enjoy.

Voice 2

In 2011, Choi created an unusual project on the streets of Seoul. He chose a ten floor building. It was a normal, simple building. But Choi covered this normal building with bright, colorful doors! Choi needed many doors to cover the walls - 1,000 of them! Choi used old doors, but he chose doors that were colourful and interesting. From the street, the building is a colourful surprise!

Voice 1 

The use of recycled materials to build public buildings is growing. These new designs are perfect for temporary and moveable structures.  They are also lower cost, beautiful and good for the environment. For these reasons, more and more designers are thinking of fresh ideas for using recycled building materials. And soon, these unusual materials may appear in your city too!

Voice 2 

Have you ever seen a building made from recycled material? Tell us about it. Leave a comment on the script page of this program or email us at

Voice 1 

The writer of this program was Michael Coleman. The producer was Luke Haley. The voices you heard were from the United Kingdom and the United States. You can listen to this program again, and read it, on the internet at This program is called, ‘New Ways to Build’.

Voice 2 

We hope you can join us again for the next Spotlight program. Goodbye.

(Get our app for Android or for Apple devices. Let us know how you like it and write a review!)


What is your home made of? What materials were used? Would you live in a home made of plastic bottles, or cardboard?


Avatar Spotlight
Ronério Henrique
said on September 06, 2015

why we can’t download the lesson? Thank you for this great website!

Avatar Spotlight
omar rummo
said on September 14, 2015

This is very useful for a human societies particularly the poors
they can find houses cheaper then ordinary materials

Avatar Spotlight
said on December 12, 2016

In life , the particular things always created by the simple things and it will change our life . Do everything to create a life with colourful and interesting .

Kaleb Kolaibi's avatar
Kaleb Kolaibi
said on December 12, 2016

I not have house!!!
God bless you

Severino Ramos da Silva's avatar
Severino Ramos da Silva
said on January 15, 2017

From: .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) (Severino Ramos)
To: spotlight programme
Subject: answer to the questions above
Date: Sunday 15, January 2017
São Paulo SP Brazil

Dear Christy VanArragon, Bruce Gulland, Luke Haley, and Macheal Coleman:

At first, I want to thank you for bringing us readers and learners of English more one great article, thanks!
My home is a building and it has ten floors. In it were used grey bricks, irons, sand, water, cement, concretes, ink, glasses, alluminiums on the Windows, pipes to carry water, liquid, and iron pipes to carry gas to cook in the kitchens. Also, in it were used wires to carry eletricity, telefone wires, lamps, wood, and etc.
Yes, I would live in a home made of plastic bottles, or cardboard.

God bless you
Severino Ramos

Avatar Spotlight
said on July 08, 2019

Hi everyone

Good Morning

I’m from Colombia, I want to thank you for this page. I can improve my skills in the English language. Today I found an error in the voice number 2 paragraph number 10 when the announcer says “The materials do not cost a lot of money” in the text that the writer writes ” The materials do not cost a lot of material”.

Thank You


Jonathan Ruiz Jimenez
Bogota Colombia

Avatar Spotlight
said on July 09, 2019

This is a good program to improve our English knowledge. I think built houses, churches and work locals with recycled plastic and paper is not a good idea. These materials are easily inflammable and peoples life will be in permanent danger. They can have low costs, but life has no price!

KatyBlake's avatar
said on July 24, 2019

Hello natayo - well spotted! The script has now been corrected. Katy from Spotlight