Yes, cardboard beds can be sexy

Designed for hard bodies.
Designed for hard bodies.
Image: Airweave
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The Olympic Village has long been known as hotbed for international hook-ups, where hundreds of thousands of free condoms are handed out during the Games to promote safe sex. But it seems to some that the organizers of the Tokyo Olympics don’t want to promote sex at all.

Athletes checking into their rooms at the Tokyo Olympic Village will discover a single mattress on a cardboard frame. The beds were custom designed for the event by the Japanese mattress brand Airweave.

The cardboard accommodations are quite different from the 2016 summer games—dubbed “Raunchy Rio”—when the beds were on metal frames. Critics on social media have dubbed the Tokyo furnishings as “anti-sex beds.”

Recyclable cardboard beds and mattresses at the Tokyo Athletes Village
Sleeping accommodations at the Tokyo 2020 Olympics Athlete’s Village
Image: Reuters/Akio Kon

In the interest of curbing the spread of Covid-19, Japanese officials have appealed to athletes to “avoid unnecessary forms of physical contact” and take home their Olympic-branded prophylactic loot as souvenirs to raise awareness about sexually transmitted disease. The cardboard beds, however, were not part of their abstinence campaign, as AFP’s fact checkers outlined.

Is it sturdy?

The twin-size cardboard bed frames can support a person (or people) weighing up to 440 lbs. and have been subjected to numerous stress tests, according Airweave. Irish gymnast Rhys Mcclenaghan tweeted a video disproving doubts that the beds are too flimsy for a good romp.

The mattresses were actually designed to offer relief for aching bodies. Athletes can even customize the firmness of their mattresses by swapping the order of the three sections. Figure skating world champion Mao Asada and Olympic medalist snowboarder Ariel Gold are among the athletes who swear by their Airweaves.

Bare yet sturdy.
Bare yet sturdy.
Image: Airweave

Choosing sustainable material was also a consideration for organizers

The frame as well as the mattresses can be recycled or reused after the games. The Airweave mattresses, which are made from recycled plastic, can be washed and sanitized with a mild alcohol solution, as a customer support representative told Quartz.

Waterproof mattresses.
Image: Airweave

The options for sanitizing are an especially appealing feature this year, as several athletes and officials staying at the tightly monitored enclave have already tested positive for Covid-19. About 8,000 of the 18,000 Airweave beds will be cleaned and reused for the Paralympic games, which begin on Aug. 24.

Convenient disposal also was an important consideration. After the games, the athletes’ complex along the Harumi waterfront will be swiftly transformed into a condominium complex. Future residents at the Harumi Flag are already anxious about when they can move in, and some buyers have sued the developers for delays.

But is cardboard sexy?

Anyone who doubts if cardboard can be an alluring material should scan the growing array of designer paper furniture.

Sitting in Frank Gehry’s Wiggle Side Chair, manufactured by the furniture brand Vitra in the early 1970s, will banish any notions that paper furniture is necessarily depressingly basic. The marquee piece in the celebrated architect’s “Easy Edges” furniture collection, the Wiggle demonstrated the aesthetic possibilities of corrugated cardboard and fiberboard. One promotional photo for Easy Edges showed a young Gehry jumping on a cardboard desk as proof of its strength like Mcclenaghan does on his bed.

Japanese architect Shigeru Ban is the grand master of cardboard structures. The Pritzker Prize winner has made creative use of paper tubes to erect emergency shelters, concert halls, and churches—some built to last for at least 50 years.

Shigeru Ban's ChristChurch
Shigeru Ban’s Christchurch built after the 2011 New Zealand earthquake.
Image: Stephen Goodenough

Ban has also developed a line of stylish cardboard seating for the Swiss brand WB Carta.

Shigeru Ban for WB Carta
Shigeru Ban’s line for WB Carta
Image: WB Carta

And the Canadian studio MOLO produces paper acoustic panels that can transform a boring open plan office into an inspiring labyrinth.

The Tokyo 2020 Olympics beds may never become a design classic but during a raging pandemic, is there anything sexier than a platform that’s supportive, sustainable, and sanitized?