Origami unfolds as a profound reservoir of inspiration for architects, designers, and artists alike

The genesis of physical design in the tangible physical realm begins –not with the initial pen strokes on a piece of paper– but in the fervent spirit and creative mind of the designer. It might be wise to employ certain techniques that assist in rewiring the brain into a productive machine or an efficient engine that understands patterns, sequences, and nuances in order to foster a sharp intellect. A technique like this is origami.


An origami mindset

Beyond a mere leisure pursuit, origami unfolds as a profound reservoir of inspiration for architects, designers, and artists alike. The strategic question emerges: How might designers deliberately leverage origami to amplify their mental prowess and sharpen their creative faculties?


A building or an origami fold?

In the pursuit of inventive design solutions, designers have found solace in the art of origami, keenly embracing its principles. Within its graceful folds, structures emerge that captivate the beholder, harmonizing visual allure with functional efficiency. The apparent simplicity of paper folding, a metaphor for life's complexities, seamlessly gives rise to architectural marvels of profound intricacy.

The Frederic C. Hamilton Building in the Denver Art Museum complex showcases a unique folded appearance with its sharp angles and jutting geometric forms. The unconventional design draws inspiration from the folds of origami, creating a visually striking architectural masterpiece.


The Frederic C. Hamilton Building in the Denver Art Museum


The Frederic C. Hamilton Building in the Denver Art Museum

In the realm of architectural brilliance, an unmistakable illustration unfolds with the "Origami House" in Barcelona, Spain, a creation by the visionary René Sargent. Here, the folded facade artfully emulates the intricate patterns of origami, crafting a visually dynamic structure. Shifting our gaze to Tokyo, the "Origami Pavilion" stands as a testament, its roof a masterful embodiment intricately drawn from the artful techniques of origami.

The fold need not merely bend but can gracefully flow, akin to the fluidity of water. An exemplary illustration is found in Zaha Hadid's masterpiece, the Heydar Aliyev Center in Baku, a rebellious departure from conventional architectural norms. Its curvilinear design, reminiscent of a singular sheet of paper artfully sculpted, resonates with the lyrical echoes of origami's graceful folds.


Zaha Hadid's Heydar Aliyev Center in Baku, Azerbaijan

Origami's influence extends from architecture to the domain of product design, where its principles are leveraged to craft items that seamlessly blend functionality with aesthetic appeal. The origami mindset sparks innovations such as origami shelters and deployable bridges, foldable drone wings, and furniture inspired by origami folding.

"Folding paper is the first technique I use when I need to translate a concept into something real," said Floriana Pastore, a Milan-based product and interior designer. “According to the specific cases, folding paper gives me information for the possible production and assembly of the parts, solutions for folding the product itself, and in general helps me to improve the proportions of the object."


Examples from Pastore's archive


Examples from Pastore's archive

“Besides this functional way of using paper folding, one of my projects is solely based on the characteristic of paper to produce thick volumes when stacked in sheets," said Pastore. "I associate this quality with the volume of ceramic tiles, creating a collection of decorative tiles, each one envisioned as a stack of paper sheets to leaf through visually in a mental game.”


Oru Kayak, a high-performance folding kayak

The "Oru Kayak" is among the most well-known furniture design examples. Inspired by the art of origami, this kayak is constructed from a single corrugated plastic sheet that is skillfully folded to provide a flat surface and a fully functional kayak. Such innovations showcase origami's potential in optimizing storage and transportation in various product designs.


Oru Kayak, a high-performance folding kayak

"As a Chinese model living in Japan, I often hear plenty of controversial voices from China regarding clothes design inspired by origami," said Kikyo Yan, a Tokyo-based Chinese model and fashion influencer. "People often think that designing clothes flashy without substance makes these pieces less practical and difficult to wear in daily life. However, I personally think clothes designed by folding styles conveys a spirit of relaxing and balanced lifestyle. The interesting thing is, Issei Miyake which is a Japanese designer inspired mostly by origami, said that design is not for philosophy but life. Which means the original intention for origami design is to make people feel comfortable. Origami in the fashion industry involved not only dense and unique Asian culture but also permeated the whole vision of the good life."

Origami's influence extends even further, finding applications in unexpected and rare cases. Scientists and engineers have explored origami's principles to design space telescopes with deployable mirrors that unfold like an origami structure once in space. This unique approach allows for larger telescopes to fit into compact launch vehicles, expanding our capabilities for space exploration.

Origami, with its centuries-old tradition, continues to unfold –not only paper– but also new possibilities in modern design. The finesse of folding and precision woven into origami doesn't just inspire; it's a sly conspirator, urging architects, designers, and artists to waltz past the mundane and tango with the extraordinary, all while leaving the mundane to its square and predictable fate.

Embracing the art of origami, though seemingly confined to the modest dimensions of a small piece of paper, unfolds into a realm of infinite possibilities. The playfulness with paper, seemingly diminutive in its presence, serves as the catalyst for innovation that transcends scale. What begins as a simple, tactile engagement evolves into a transformative force capable of shaping tools, products, buildings, and even aircraft. The delicate creases and folds on that initial piece of paper become the blueprint for ingenuity, manifesting in a cascade of innovations that seamlessly invade our physical reality. In the world of origami, the journey from a tiny sheet to monumental creations exemplifies the profound impact that creativity and imagination can wield on the tangible landscapes of our existence.