It won the hearts of festival audiences in 2017 and now it’s back. French artist Olivier Grossetête returned to Galway International Arts Festival with The People Build, a spectacular architectural event that has captured the imagination the world over.

Two large-scale and highly ambitious structures

Encouraging a sense of community whereby the public can get involved, The People Build saw hundreds of volunteers create two large-scale and highly ambitious structures solely from cardboard. It took place during the middle weekend of the festival, from July 20-22. Following on from the success of his reconstruction of the Aula Maxima in Eyre Square in 2017, this year Grossetête and his team, together with hundreds of volunteers, helped transform cardboard boxes into not just one, but two structures.

A testimony to Galway’s River Corrib viaduct

The first, a new cardboard bridge at Waterside, was floated out on boats, serving as a testimony to Galway’s River Corrib viaduct, once part of the famous Galway to Clifden railway. A second structure replicated an iconic Galway building – St Nicholas' Collegiate Church – was erected on Eyre Square. Both structures were assembled on Friday, July 20, and Saturday, July 21, and as per last year, they were demolished the day after on Sunday, July 22. Managing director of Walsh Waste & Recycling Gerard Walsh said: "The structures were designed by French artist and architect Olivier Grossetête. Each structure was drawn up using 3D modelling and the cardboard was ordered to a certain specification and came flat packed (IKEA style). "The cardboard then gets made into thousands of smaller pieces like lego/jenga blocks during the week prior to the assembly by local volunteers, schools kids and so on. All of these blocks were labelled and stored in sequence to aid assembly. "I think one of the amazing things about it was that it demonstrated that even with a material that is very weak in a certain dimension, that when it is shaped and taped it was possible to build a free-standing bridge 30m long and about 5m high by just using cardboard and duct tape.

'Inherent strength of an arch even when it is made from a very light and flexible material'

"It also demonstrated, hopefully, to young people the inherent strength of an arch even when it is made from a very light and flexible material. All of the young children and non-engineers had absolutely no doubt that it would work and it was only the engineers, including myself, that were more sceptical – you could see all the design calculations, load factors, wind factors being computed in our minds. "It demonstrated that we need to open our minds more to the possibilities of projects before we get bogged down in all the mundane calculations. "The French artists had built a number of cardboard bridges previously but this was the largest and most ambitious one they had done with the largest span between the arches. "The weather obviously had a huge part to play, with rain and wind being the biggest factors that would influence the success or failure of the construction. The bridge was constructed quayside at the Commercial Boat club in Woodquay and was then stood upright by all the volunteers. "It was then placed one leg at a time onto three pontoons using people power. It was well sheltered in the assembly area but when it was being pulled out onto the Corrib it had to battle with 14-knot winds.

'Quite a challenge and took a while to anchor it to the final position'

"While the wind was not that strong in real terms, when you are trying to manoeuvre a 30m long x 5m high structure, weighing less than 1.5 tons which was duct-taped to three pontoons using small boats, kayaks and ropes, it was quite a challenge and took a while to anchor it to the final position. "There were a few hairy moments floating the bridge out and, when it was nearly in its final position, it broke free of the buoy and took off down the river, which consequently involved a mad chase by the boats to stop it, as it was windy. It looked like it was going to end up at the bottom of the Corrib. "The whole concept was a totally mad idea, little did I think that 20 years after learning how to design bridges I would be building one 30m long from cardboard and floating it onto the Corrib right across from the old NUI Galway engineering block. Many of the engineers that I was in college with 20 years ago turned up over the few days. I even met one of my old lecturers. "It was like an engineers' convention. Naturally, we all had our opinions on the best way to get it onto the water. The plan was only finalised – probably by somebody under the age of 12 – just minutes before take-off.

'We even built a church in Eyre Square for a wedding'

"We even built a church in Eyre Square for a wedding – it was the tower section from St Nicholas' Collegiate Church in Galway. "Thousands got involved over the few days between the construction and demolition – and the kids had a ball with the demolition," said Walsh. All of the cardboard was recycled following demolition, which took less that one hour "thanks to the help from about 200 kids". Walsh, who graduated with a degree in civil engineering from NUI Galway in 1997 and completed a master's in engineering science at NUI Galway following his primary degree, said that while his current role as managing director of Walsh Waste & Recycling has moved him away from engineering, "I jumped at the chance to build a bridge, even it was from cardboard and had a design life of 24 hours". This year’s Galway International Arts Festival takes place from July 16-29. Tickets are on sale via, by phone on 091 566 577 or in person at the GIAF box office located in the Galway Tourist Office on Forster Street. Video: The People Build at GIAF 2017