Learning Engineering and Architecture through Origami

Make: STEAM instructs WHSAD students in the art and science of Miura-ori mountain and valley folds

A lantern made out of Miura-ori folds – each student’s lantern was unique Photo credit: Kate Yourke

Students of the Williamsburg High School for Architecture and Design (WHSAD) at 257 N 6th Street participated in a four-day creative exploration of positive and negative space and balancing yin and yang forces. The students were introduced to origami tessellation through a practice called Miura-ori, in which a piece of paper is folded in three-dimensional alternating mountain and valley folds. The transformational ability of this type of folding goes beyond the artistic to have structural applications in architecture and engineering, finding use in aerospace design, surgical stents, nanostructures, solar panel arrays, etc.

“The Miura-ori fold bestows the paper with mechanical properties, making it springy, flexible and transformable. Inverting the folds can stiffen the paper form, while reverting the folds restores its flexibility. This is why some scientists refer to these folded forms as programmable matter,” said Kate Yourke, president of Make: STEAM. “As an intro to Origami Tessellations we are exploring negative space in 2D and 3D design.  I’m connecting the balance of those opposite folds with the philosophy that the world maintains a dynamic balance of opposite forces, as represented by the yin/yang symbol. The high-contrast graphic of the symbol is also an example of a principle of positive and negative space in graphic design. The students started in 2D then moved to 3D, using negative space to make architectural forms.”

2D exercise. Photo credit: Kate Yourke

The first step was instructing the students to create 2D forms.  One exercise directed the students to: choose a colored paper square, choose a contrasting background, cut shapes along the edge, flip each cut-out shape over, align it to match the empty space, cut a smaller piece out of the shape, flip that into the empty space, and repeat.  Once completed the students were to carefully glue pieces to background. 

Learning 3D application of positive and negative space. Photo credit: Kate Yourke

The students then progressed on to 3D where they were guided in using negative space to make architectural forms. The final part of the four-day project involved the Miura-ori fold and its uses in engineering.

Make: STEAM engages students with hands-on workshops to spark curiosity, enrich creativity, and integrate curriculum in the public schools of District 14, Brooklyn.  For more information: http://www.steamworks.nyc/

Author: Lori Ann Doyon

Managing editor, head writer, and lead photographer of Greenline | North Brooklyn News since October 2014. Resident of Williamsburg, Brooklyn since 1990.

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