This profile is part of our Design Showcase series, and you’ll find more of these by clicking the Profiles tab above the masthead.

Elonah O’Neil, a forward-thinking interior architect graduate from the University of Pretoria, believes that design can be a social solution, providing the key to a more conscious and sustainable future. For her thesis project, she designed emergency housing made from cardboard to provide respectful living spaces for people in the aftermath of disasters.


Two years ago, Elonah participated in Global Studio, an ongoing teaching and research project that brings together building professionals and students from around the world to ‘develop new modes of practice’. This collaboration afforded her first-hand experience of working with communities to improve living conditions in the informal settlement of Joburg’s Diepsloot.


After investigating the context and climate of various regional disasters in the greater Tshwane region, Elonah came to the conclusion that although conventional donor structures economically shelter the body, they neglect to address issues of home and belonging. She wanted to invent more than just a makeshift solution in the face of an immediate crisis, but rather a ‘starter kit’ with the potential to become a home. She found her answer in cardboard, the most prosaic of everyday materials, and set about exploring its possibilities as an alternative building material. ‘Cardboard is an excellent insulator and fire-resistant if treated in the right way,’ she explains.

Perhaps the most ingenious aspect of her flat-pack cardboard shelter design is that it makes use of wall space to incorporate built-in interior features and basic furniture.

architectural house

Elonah has just started developing cardboard designs for a company with the capacity to manufacture her pieces, so she’s hoping to take it to the next level soon. ‘I’ve pushed it as far as I can academically and on paper. I now need to make real prototypes,’ says this can-do dreamer who’s intent on producing designs that make a real difference.