Can origami be made from wood

Origami folds

The Chair of Wooden Structures (IBOIS) at the Ecole Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne, or EPFL for short, researches the feasibility of folded wooden structures. Origami, the Japanese art of folding paper, serves as the basis. The Saint-Loup chapel is the first reference building.

Because of their load-bearing and three-dimensional effect, Faltwerke is of equal interest to engineers and architects. The folds increase the rigidity of a thin surface, which not only covers the room, but also has a load-bearing effect. The rhythm of the folds and the interplay of light and shadow along the folded surface can be used specifically for spatial design. At the same time, the load-bearing capacity of the folded structure can be influenced by the depth and inclination of the folds. Up until now, folded panels were mainly made with concrete or with glass fiber reinforced plastics. The development of large-format cross-laminated timber panels and the possibility of tying them with CNC machines are now also opening up new perspectives for the construction of folded wooden panels.

We set ourselves the goal of developing a method by means of which such folded structures can quickly be represented and changed spatially. Origami, the starting point of the work, works with simple basic techniques which, through geometric variations, lead to an astonishing variety of shapes. In this way, complex shapes can be generated efficiently and with simple means. We wanted to transfer these properties to the construction of folded structures with cross laminated timber. Using intuitive paper folding, we determined suitable folding patterns and then analyzed their geometry in order to be able to represent them in a 3D drawing program.

We developed a method in which double-corrugated surfaces are defined by two polygonal lines: the corrugation profile and the cross-sectional profile. The corrugation profile defines the straight main folds of simply corrugated surfaces. These can be folded by reverse folds. A second corrugation of the surface runs transversely to the main folds and is defined by the cross-sectional profile. This determines the overall shape of the folded structure and the kink angle of the reverse folds. The desired type of folded structure and its static properties can be determined by the interaction of the two profiles. The work shows how the shape and load-bearing capacity of the folded structures can be influenced by controlling various influencing variables. The various types of folded structures have a strong, independent shape, so that individual parameters of the geometry can be changed and adapted to project-specific conditions without affecting the architectural expression. We are convinced that this model for the representation of folded structures will lead to a productive cooperation between engineers and architects and to a new generation of wooden structures.

The construction of prototypes has shown that such folds are feasible. The Saint-Loup chapel is a first example of use. Origami folding frames are only one way of building load-bearing structures out of cross-laminated timber panels. Further research work at IBOIS deals with models that generate surface structures using iterative algorithms, and with structures that are inspired by textile techniques.