One sheet of paper
One sheet of paper is a very powerful tool. It can be the vehicle to start any imaginative journey into design. The opportunities for working with it are huge, and the feedback it gives to your eyes, hands and brain are invaluable for understanding 3D space as well as developing fine motor skills.
The use of paper for experimenting with design is very important, especially for younger children. It helps the mind to understand 3D space and form, and to enable the mind to comprehend objects in space. This is a learnt skill which we tend to lose as we grow up. Our world is dominated with straight lines, flat planes, vertical walls and standardised doors and windows. As we grow up we become more and more used to these simplistic conventions. There's a kind of dumbing down of our 3D cognitive skills. Professional designers sit in orthogonal rooms and operate 3D computer software to solve spacial design issues which our minds are losing a grasp of. Neither the mind nor the fingers are being exercised as they could be as a designer.
But it starts with only one sheet of paper; a very accessible resource. Take a scrap sheet of A4 and before tossing it in to the recycling bin, try giving it a couple of folds. What does it give back? Has something been created that you need to turn in your hands to comprehend? What space does it offer? Placed on a table, what scale would a person need to be to occupy it? Bring your eyes down to the level you would be, if you were that scale. What is the light like? How do the spaces feel? How would you scale this up to make a full size structure? Where would you site it and what would it be used for? Suddenly you're on an Architectural adventure.
The list of examples below are techniques for manipulating paper which we have used in School creative design workshops. It's a toolbox methods that can be used to investigate and progress architectural design ideas.
Folding is possibly the simplest process to start with. It can be as simple or as complicated as you want it to be, and its reversible. Adding a few folds to a sheet of paper quickly transforms the material from being an unremarkable object to something that challenges our comprehension.
Cutting is a one-way process in the sense that it is irreversible, unlike folding. Cutting allows different shapes and forms to be created and geometries managed with polyhedron nets or allowing flexibility in the material which was not possible before the cut.
Adding allows paper components to be combined to make a new form or structure. These can either be as structural rods created from rolled paper, geometric shapes combined as panels, or with folded forms added together to make larger structures such as with modular origami. Assemblies can have fixed or flexible junctions. As a result, the forms created can be static or flexible.
Slotting components together allows three dimensional assemblies to be created which can be disassembled and recreated in different geometric arrangements. Having folds and slots at angles quickly challenges our abilities to mentally keep track of the forms that emerge, and can create some exciting results.
Lets not forget that paper is ideal for drawing. In our design workshops we always like to challenge our students further by inviting them to represent their 3D creations with Architectural drawings and how they would work at full-scale. These include plans, sections, elevations, axonometrics, perspectives and free-hand explanatory diagrams.
With designs developing, our workshops often investigate how the the proposals will transform with different materials, to experiment with colours, light, translucency, and the meanings and values associated with different material surfaces. We often look at different structural solutions, because materials perform differently to paper and card. Here, white card models start to transform in to more complete design proposals with these extra dimensions added.
Given the opportunity we love to attempt scaling some proposals up to full scale. It enables the students to realise their creations and experience how they will work in reality. Paper sheets and rods generally transfer into card or correx sheets and card roll centers from rolls of carpet, fixed with cable ties, rope or nuts and bolts.
The journey of a humble sheet of scrap A4 paper to an individual and unique creation in form, space and geometry can be extraordinary. To practice our drawing skills we're encouraged to sketch for ten minutes each day. To practice our spacial design skills we should likewise play with those waste sheets of A4 paper before they get sent to the recycling bin.