Collectively Constructing A Cardboard City

Some of the many #CardboardCity architects and their numerous creations.

This past Saturday, the Redwood City Library Foundation organized STEAM Fest. 2.0 in Downtown Redwood City’s Courthouse Square. According to the foundation’s Facebook post, about 4,800 people attended the event, even with temperatures around 80 degrees. Many attendees ventured up to Courtroom A in the San Mateo County History Museum, where the San Mateo County Office of Education hosted Cardboard City, a collaborative construction activity for all ages.

Courtroom A, the location of #CardboardCity and where scenes in Mrs. Doubtfire were filmed!

What began at 11:00am as a bare courtroom floor, with stacks and stacks of hidden cardboard, transformed over the next several hours into a hotbed of innovation and creativity. Along the way, families built a train, many airports, a replica of Box’s Redwood City headquarters, and even Cardboard City’s own Empire State Building.

The poster that welcomed families into Courtroom A.

What direction or guidance did we provide as the hosts of Cardboard City? Mostly questions that prompted kids (and parents) to think more critically about what is needed in a city. For instance, what can be placed next to the city’s convention center? Why not a hotel, one child decided. What does every airport need? A watchtower, of course!

Cardboard City’s airport, complete with hanger and watch tower.

The main tool that was used to turn cardboard boxes (most of which were collected and transported to the museum by Redwood City Library Foundation’s Executive Director, Rouslana Yaroslavsky) into buildings was the Makedo cardboard construction kit. (One could argue that creativity was the main tool and Makedo was the enabler.) The basic kit includes one Safe-Saw, one Scru-Driver, and 28 Scrus, which is generally enough for a single person to build with. Multiple people require multiple Scru-Drivers and Safe-Saws, which we were able to provide by combining the supplies from San Mateo County Office of Education with the supplies at EmpowerMINT. Also used were two ZipSnip electric cardboard cutters (available on Amazon for under $35 each), which allowed adults and responsibly-supervised children to make quick easy cuts for large buildings and smaller wheels. Some tape was also used, although future iterations of Cardboard City would surely have no tape available in the room, as it’s not as strong of a material and its color often overshadowed the structural design.

Finally, after constructing their contribution to the city (or at anytime in the process), children were invited to sign their name on the poster that listed all of the city’s designers and to create a button that showed that they were a part of the 2017 Cardboard City at STEAM Fest 2.0.

For an event that ended at 3:00pm, it was about 3:45pm before all the families finally left the room and we were able to get all of the cardboard back to either the museum’s basement (if it was reusable) or the recycling bin (if it was too small or flimsy to be used again).

Much appreciation to everyone who contributed to such a fun Saturday event, including Rebecca Vyduna, Doron Markus, and Zack Jones from SMCOE, Rouslana Yaroslavsky and Dennis Manalo from Redwood City Library Foundation, Dawn Distasio from San Mateo County History Museum, my wife Jenna Wachtel, and all of the incredible STEAM Fest 2.0 volunteers.

Build on!

* Cross-posted on