Dr. Alan Russell leads instruction in the art of kirigami during #MakeElon workshop

Posted on: April 10, 2015 | By: Casey Brown | Filed under: Maker Hub

_MG_8117Dr. Alan Russell of the mathematics department is no stranger to the complex shapes and masterful folds of origami. This past winter term, he taught a upper-level general studies course all about the math principles involved in origami folding. But at March’s #MakeElon worshop, he took the paper-folding discipline in a new direction: kirigami.

What is kirigami?

Kirigami, otherwise called origami architecture, is the practice of paper folding, but allows practitioners to cut the paper as well. Dr. Russell says kirigami and its practice of cutting offer an opportunity to make different kinds of creations.

“When you think about a square [of paper], you got a head, a tail and two wings,” Dr. Russell said. “You can make lots of birds with no problem. But suppose I want a deer. It has too many legs for every one to have its own point. If you want alters, you better cut antlers, because to get individual points for antlers will take 200 steps and that’s not fun.”

Dealing in pop-ups

_MG_8126Many of the kirigami designs Dr. Russell presented on can also be called pop-ups, because the cutting and folding allowed certain areas to “pop” forward, creating a 3D design from a once-flat piece of paper. To start, Dr. Russell introduced a circle that by cutting and folding down a center point and up flaps evenly spaced around the circle became a top.

From there, Dr. Russell taught a multitude of pop-up designs to cut and fold, from a pseudo-fractal of rectangles to a scene of a moon over the waves of an ocean.

Research in origami

During the demonstrations, Dr. Russell explained that kirigami isn’t the only interesting way to play with origami principles. He is currently working with a team at North Carolina State University to develop methods that enable two-dimensional shapes to self-fold into three-dimensional shapes.

The team utilizes experiments and computer models to evaluate effective ways for 3D structures to fold with precise control and retain the proper shape. The project believes this research in this area could help develop foils that to be used for such applications as airdrops of supplies, clean and hands-free assembly lines and product packaging.

The team found a way to make a 2D object convert itself to a 3D object by using light.

Moving beyond paper

Though this #MakeElon workshop focused on manipulations with paper, Dr. Russell says the craft can stretch beyond the paper medium.

With a grant to study creativity and makerspaces, Dr. Russell attended summer workshops at the Arrowmont School of Arts and Crafts in Gatlinburg, TN. Though he was originally disappointed that there were no origami or paper workshops, he found himself pleasantly surprised when he took a metal smith workshop.

_MG_8108“We took squares of copper and did these [origami-like] manipulation,” Dr. Russell said. “It’s not like woodcarving when you’re removing material or sculpting in clay when you’re adding material. You always start with a piece of material, do the manipulations and end with a product.”

Inspired by this metal smith workshop, Dr. Russell started doing origami with different kinds of materials, like copper and silver sheets. But when he returned to Arrowmont, he found a brand new material to work in: screen wire.

“The second time I went, there wasn’t an origami workshop or a metal smith workshop, but there was one guy making sculptures with screen wire, like what you would have on your back porch” Dr. Russell said. “I did some origami made from this material. Now, I do some with iron weave, some with steel, and some brass or copper pieces. I like workshops when I get a single sheet of material to work with.”


If you’re interested in getting involved with making on campus, check out the list of upcoming maker-inspired events and workshops.

Casey Brown

Casey Brown is the Writing Intern for Technology with Elon University's Teaching and Learning Technologies Department.

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One response to “Dr. Alan Russell leads instruction in the art of kirigami during #MakeElon workshop”

  1. Actually I once went to a seminar by a packaging firm that was about what packaging technology can “do for you and your product”. I should think that either packaging technologists have not caught up with all of the above or that at least it was time to fuse the two areas of expertise and technology. E.g. cardboard packaging nowadays looks a lot like kirigami to me (if you take a few seconds to take a package apart until it lies flat in front of you, you see exactly those cuts similar to the above exaples).