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Origami and Its Influence on Architectural Design

submitted on 8 June 2023 by

A Journey to the Heart of the Fold

As I sauntered across the streets of London's archetypal cityscape, I was struck by a peculiar and yet strangely familiar sight. There, amidst the relentless greyness of concrete, steel and glass, a vision of grace and delicacy emerged, like a paper crane taking flight from the palm of a child. It was then that I realized the profound and pervasive influence that the ancient art of origami has had on the world of architectural design. It is a truth universally acknowledged that the British are a nation of eccentrics. We revel in the absurd and the idiosyncratic, whether it's our penchant for queuing or our fondness for tea and biscuits. So, it should come as no surprise to discover that we have embraced the ancient and enigmatic art of origami with all the fervor of a flock of paper swans taking flight at the first hint of rain.

Origami: A Brief History

Origami, for the uninitiated, is the art of paper folding, which originated in Japan in the 17th century. The word itself is derived from two Japanese words: ori, which means "to fold," and kami, which means "paper." It is a practice that has evolved over the centuries, from its humble beginnings as a form of religious and ceremonial expression to its current status as a global phenomenon, with devotees and practitioners spanning the globe. It is believed that the first origami practitioners were the Buddhist monks who brought paper to Japan from China in the 6th century. They used their newfound skill to craft intricate and elegant religious offerings, which they believed had the power to appease the gods and secure their favor. Over the centuries, origami began to permeate the wider Japanese culture, with the art of folding paper cranes becoming particularly popular during the Edo period (1603-1868).

Origami Meets Architecture: A Match Made in Heaven?

The realm of architecture, like that of origami, is one that is steeped in tradition and governed by a strict set of rules and principles. And yet, amidst the rigidity and the order, there exists a surprising degree of flexibility and adaptability, making it the perfect breeding ground for innovation and experimentation. This is where the influence of origami comes into play, with its inherent qualities of creativity, precision, and beauty acting as catalysts for architectural transformation. One of the most striking and iconic examples of the interplay between origami and architecture is Toyo Ito's Serpentine Pavilion, which was unveiled in London's Hyde Park in 2002. The structure, which was inspired by the form of a paper folding fan, features a series of delicate and intricate folds and creases, giving it an air of poise and elegance that belies its considerable size and weight.

The Many Forms of Origami Architecture

As the influence of origami has spread throughout the world of architecture, it has manifested itself in a variety of different forms and styles, with architects drawing inspiration from a diverse range of paper folding techniques. Some of the most notable examples include:
  • The Louvre Pyramid in Paris, designed by I.M. Pei, which features a series of triangular folds and creases that echo the form of a traditional origami crane.
  • The Klein Bottle House in Melbourne, designed by McBride Charles Ryan, which is based on the concept of the mathematical Klein bottle, a non-orientable surface with no distinct "inside" or "outside."
  • The Cardboard Cathedral in Christchurch, New Zealand, designed by Shigeru Ban, which is constructed using 98 giant cardboard tubes, making it both lightweight and structurally sound.
  • The Aqua Tower in Chicago, designed by Studio Gang, which features an undulating, wave-like facade that is reminiscent of the fluid movement of a piece of folded paper.

A Future Built on Paper

As the world continues to evolve and change at an ever-quickening pace, the need for architectural innovation and adaptability has never been greater. The ancient art of origami, with its emphasis on precision, creativity, and resourcefulness, offers a tantalizing glimpse into a new and exciting future for the built environment. A future, perhaps, that is built not on steel and concrete, but on the delicate and ephemeral folds of paper. So, as I continue to wander the streets of this great and eternally surprising metropolis, I find myself drawn to the hidden beauty and complexity of the world around me, as if seeing it through the eyes of an origami master. And, as the sunlight catches the sharp angles and gentle folds of the city's myriad architectural marvels, I cannot help but marvel at the enduring power and influence of an art form that began life as a simple piece of folded paper.
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