Crash course in paper engineering

April 13, 2008 at 12:30 pm (Uncategorized)

So I’m all about trying to build a gigantic pop-up book right now, one which starts out looking like a regular (albeit, I’m assuming, oversized) book and then unfolds and unfolds into this gigantic thing.

I have zero idea what I’m doing – right now, I just have this idea that is really interesting to me and no way to really resolve it other than to just jump in and start figuring it all out. Paper engineering is a legit thing; in general, my rule of thumb for life is, “If they offer a course in it at MIT, chances are I won’t be any good at doing it.” And yet, here I am, trying to figure out what I need to know about folding, cutting, glueing, and so forth, kind of all at once.

It’s a good time of year for me to do this. We’re at the end of the semester, so the parts of me that are good at making drawings are pretty closed down and exhausted right now, but I still have nervous energy to burn and a desire to make stuff. Thus, we have the following…

I had this idea to make this gigantic, collapsable tunnel that you could take with you anywhere as a kind of refuge; the idea was that it would fold up completely and then become the back flap of a book. The finished one would have drawings all inside it so that it is this immersive space that you’re hanging out in, but first things first – how the hell to make a collapsable tunnel out of paper?

I started out making about a dozen small models before I just thought Screw it and went ahead and built this large one (which actually was far easier than building any of the models was). So here it is totally collapsed. Its width is larger than the width of my body, but not so big that there’s a ton of room on any side:

It was made by relentlessly soaking, folding, ironing, blow-drying, and more folding of this rather inexpensive paper I had laying around, so much so that the paper was just this close to totally disintegrating.

Anyway. Here I am unfolding it:

and more unfolding (sorry my apartment’s a mess!):

and more:

It was right around here that I started to realize an important thing about paper engineering: That once you take a piece of paper and soak/fold/refold/cut/glue/resoak/dry it, it doesn’t really ever return to the original size it once was. Makes sense, but it’s one of those things you don’t really realize until you’re standing in the middle of your collapsable tunnel that you spend a large chunk of the evening before making, and you suddenly see it’s half the length you wanted it to be.

No matter, really. It’s supposed to be a tunnel and not a dress anyway, so I climbed in:

Yeah, I know – the bottom part looks like a mouth which is all kinds of disturbing, but remember that that’s the part that would be glued down into a book if this were the real thing.

The view from inside:

Sort of like a huge intestine made out of paper Chinese lanterns. Still, for a first real try? I’m pretty psyched.


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