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What is Origamic Architecture?

Kevin Mathews
Kevin Mathews

Origami is the Japanese art of paper folding. Intricate shapes and designs are created by making simple folds in a piece of paper. Kirigami is similar to origami except that, in addition to folding paper, small cuts are also made. Many children have experienced kirigami when making paper snowflakes. Origamic architecture is the name given to a fusion of origami and kirigami that allows complex works of art to be created by folding and cutting a sheet of paper.

Masahiro Chatani began experimenting in 1981 with combining origami and kirigami techniques. At the time, he was a professor of architecture in Tokyo, and he infused his knowledge of this subject into his new creation. Working with colleague Keiko Nakazawa, he created a new form of art called origamic architecture.

Origamic architecture combines paper folding with precise cuts.
Origamic architecture combines paper folding with precise cuts.

As its name implies, many origamic architecture works are based on buildings and other architectural structures. While this is where the original inspiration came from, the art form has grown to encompass a wide variety of origamic architecture creations. Constructions range from buildings to animals to miscellaneous designs such as soccer balls, Christmas trees, and children playing.

The most common form of origamic architecture involves making the shape from a single sheet of folded paper. The art reveals itself when the paper is opened at a 90-degree angle, similar to what might be seen in a pop-up greeting card. Variations exist in which the art is revealed when the paper is opened at 0°, 180°, or 360°.

With 0° origamic architecture, there is no folding of paper. Instead, cut pieces of paper are placed on top of one another to create a three-dimensional work of art. For 180° art, glue may be involved, or designs may be “punched out” to make the art. This is commonly seen in pop-up books. Spherical objects, such as globes or lampshades, are often the result of 360° origamic architecture.

Chatani died of cancer in 2008, but the new art form he created is alive and thriving. Many enthusiasts are committed to expanding origamic architecture. Katie McElroy, a graphic design graduate of Indiana's Ball State University in the United States, is one such example.

In the mid-2000s, McElroy — then known as Katie Marinaro — experimented with using a digital laser cutter to make the paper cuts needed for origamic architecture. She created well-known landmarks such as Big Ben and the Eiffel Tower, along with Ball State landmarks. Her work was so well received that it led to several commissions, including keepsake cards for Ball State’s Indianapolis Center grand opening.

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    • Origamic architecture combines paper folding with precise cuts.
      By: Theo Malings
      Origamic architecture combines paper folding with precise cuts.