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Modular Origami

As most people are no doubt aware, origami is a storied art form originating in Japan that relies upon carefully folding thin pieces of paper into intricate designs which mimic animals or other shapes and designs. Many of us in America are likely most familiar with origami in the context of paper cranes, which are indeed one of the most popular origami models to make and inevitably arise in any number of elementary school curricula as well as during at home arts and crafts sessions. These simple paper cranes, and other origami animals such as tigers or rabbits, are fantastic examples of the way in which a square sheet of paper may be used to mimic shapes found in our everyday environment. Unfortunately, beyond simple animal like shapes many people in Western nations do not utilize origami in an significant capacity and as a result they miss out on the true versatility of this art form. Paper folding among children is more often limited to the creation of so called “fortune tellers” and complex paper airplanes, all of which are fun novelty items but have little decorative value. In contrast to these toy like items, modular origami has the potential to produce a wide array of symmetrical objects that serve as intriguing centerpieces in any room in which they are placed. As a bonus, they are also a lot of fun to create in the first place.

upload.wikimedia.org_wikipedia_commons_thumb_2_29_modular_origami.jpg_800px-modular_origami.jpg As the name suggests, modular origami consists of origami using paper modules. In essence, each square sheet of paper used is folded in an identical geometric fashion to form a single “module”. This module may not be interesting on its own, but when combined with many other modules (often anywhere from 6 - 60 total modules) it will form a complex geometric shape that is thoroughly eye catching. The most common shapes formed in this fashion are simple Platonic geometric solids such as an icosahedron or a dodecahedron. Simpler shapes such as cubes or pyramids can also be created. The exact structure of the final shape will depend on the type of module used, and there are a number of modules that have been designed which vary in complexity (see below). Final shapes may be simple solid shapes, or may appear as skeletal frameworks that allow for interlocking shapes of impressive complexity to be designed and produced.

Do It Yourself

Getting started with modular origami couldn't be simpler - all you need is paper and a bit of time to spare. As with all origami, you will want your paper to take the shape of a square as this is essential for producing the symmetrical modules that enable this technique to work. If you use uneven pieces of paper your modules will not fit together properly and the end result will be disappointing to say the least. The simplest approach here is to run to an arts and crafts store and purchase a pack of origami paper, which will come in a wide range of brightly colored sheets of paper pre cut into small perfect squares that will be ideal for starting out making your own modular origami (or any other sort of origami you may wish to make). Pre cut origami paper also has the advantage of being very thin. While origami can be completed with paper of an thickness within reason (though cardstock may be challenging), the thicker the paper is the harder it will be to repeatedly fold over itself. This means that if you work with standard printer paper cut into squares, your final shapes may be somewhat imperfect and have dulled edges due to the difficulty of making the requisite intricate folds in each module. This is not to say that thick paper cannot be used, and indeed if you use sufficiently large squares then it will be easy to use paper of any thickness as this will help to compensate for the initial folding difficulties that you will encounter.

While a package of origami paper is that simplest starting material to work with, you are not limited to these brightly colored sheets. Indeed, while colorful origami can be very beautiful it often lacks character that makes each piece unique. For this reason, I often create modular origami using old worm out or damaged books. I take these books and cut out pages, which I then trim to identical squares using an exacto knife and a ruler. These squares are then perfect for forming modular origami, and they ensure that each design will be unique and will reflect the character of the book used to create it. This also works best with thin paper, as in the case of pulp type books from low cost publishers which are often easy to find very cheaply. I have also used this successfully with old editions of textbooks that can be purchased for just a few dollars online and which are often filled with colorful pictures that make for very interesting and unique pieces of origami perfect for display. I have not personally tried magazines as starting material, but I have no doubt that they would also make good candidates for modular pieces of origami and they virtually always have very thin printed paper. Comic books may also be a good choice, and low end comic books are always available for a very low cost.

Once you have your paper, all you need to do is find a module and pick a final shape that you want to create. A simple starter module to work with is the Sonobe module unit (linked below). This shape involves relatively simple folds that any newcomer to origami will find easy to complete, and it enables you to create a wide range of geometric solids dependent upon how many modules you wish to make. For the Sonobe module, with six modules you can create a cube. If you would like to create the mode complex icosahedron shape then you will need 30 total modules (not 20, even though this may seem counterintuitive). You can also make other solids with these modules as you see fit. Once you have formed the requisite number of modules, you can begin to shape your final solid shape. To do this, you will need to tuck the flaps from each module into the adjoining modules. It is rather difficult to explain this process verbally, so your best approach is to look into the links below or search Youtube for a video of the assembly process - there are several available, in multiple languages. Once you have your final solid shape assembled, you will have a fantastic conversation piece.

Below you will find a webpage with a large array of module designs that can be used to create complex and interesting shapes. As your origami skills improve you may wish to branch out into these approaches in order to diversify your collection. Regardless of what you choose to create using modular origami, you will no doubt find that if you do enjoy it then it can be a very relaxing hobby. It can easily be done while watching television or listening to music/radio, as each module is identical and the process becomes fairly mindless, providing your hands with something to do while still producing an exciting final product.

References


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