Common Materials Imitate Life
Challenging Materials to behave differently and bringing them to life

By Maryam Dehghani, Shipra Balasubramani



Our research and design focussed on the following questions :

1. What happens when you use a material in an unconventional context?
What if you bring it to life?
2. Can you challenge materials to behave differently?

We wanted to explore the idea of kinetic sculptures and origami, to create an empathetic material experience.
Adding motion and lights to make it seem Alive/Breathing emphasises the interaction of time and movement.

Related Works Research

p2Diffusion Choir | 2016
Diffusion Choir is a kinetic sculpture commissioned by Biomed Realty for the headquarters of Shire, a global biotechnology company, in Cambridge, MA.  Hypersonic worked with Sosolimited and Plebian Design to design, program, engineer and build this artwork. This is a kinetic sculpture that uses 400 folding elements to reveal the movements of an invisible flock of birds. Its movements are always changing, driven by custom software running a flocking algorithm. This served as the inspiration for our project because their movement and coordination together and furthermore their opening and closing evoked an interactive experience of dynamism and movement.

p3Alive and Timeless | Isha Pimpalkhare
‘Timeless’ – The Biophilia Hypothesis is a concept which states that we as humans have an innate and genetically determined affiliation to our natural surroundings. Trying to humanize the inanimate materials she works with, Alive is an attempt to exhibit the very essential act of breathing on fabric. ‘The sculpture almost works like the minute hand of a clock, where each element shrinks and blooms in a rhythmic, cyclic manner, displaying a constant change in state and time.’ This project was a part of her final thesis during her MA at the Royal College of Art, London. The act of animating inanimate objects and showing the act of breathing in origami inspired us to work on the idea of making an origami and moving it.



Hussein Chalayan | Paris RTW 2007
In this show, Hussain designed a long Victorian dress with a high collar, which starts shaking, moving and readjusting in this show.  The single-breasted top opened, the jacket pulled back, the hem began to rise, this was one of six incredible masterpieces of technology and conceptual interpretation at the heart of Hossein Chelayan’s show.  In this fashion show, it still has the power to surprise, excite and send the inner feeling created among its audience. After seeing this dress, we thought that this origami could be a part of wearable technology and could be a dynamic object on the dress.

Image :








We were inspired by the verb “to expand” from Richard Serra’s 1967 work Verb List and the material we chose to work with is parchment paper. 

Our main research question revolved around the idea of challenging the nature of the material and to be able to bring it to life. As a part of the explorations, we initially worked with aluminium foil as our main material, to create the origami units, and realised the challenges that arose with working the chosen material. We then worked with parchment paper, as it has added properties like non-stickiness, and resistance to humidity.

Origami, the art of paper folding, has inspired design in more ways than one. The aim of origami is to transform a flat piece of paper into a sculpture-like object. In modern times, the techniques of origami are being used in various design and technological industries to find inspiration for creating geometric pieces that are futuristic, original, and intricately designed.

We explored various folds that resonated with our action verb, to expand. We worked on creating individual units as a part of our prototyping and exploration stage, while doing so, we were intrigued by the idea of multiplying these units to create a larger piece and we were interested in understanding how these individual units/ organisms would interact and respond to each
other’s presence.




For the first prototype, we worked with the magic ball fold, and created the unit using parchment paper. We worked with a standard servo and a light sensor. The piece responds to the LDR sensor, it stops moving i.e goes to an idle state when the sensor is covered. When exposed to light, the piece comes alive and is in motion. The intent was to create slow movement, moving the standard servo from 80 to 180 degrees.

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Image 2:


Design Considerations & Technical Description
Our larger vision for this project would be two applications, a large scale interactive installation and Fashion + Wearable Tech. For the installation, we envision these units to be multiplied into a larger composition, with more states of interactions. This could also be further explored into creating dynamic kinetic facades in architecture.

As for the other, Contemporary fashion designers have been always inspired by origami ideas and its sculptural forms; they realize that Origami art is a valuable opportunity to explore very futuristic and interesting ideas in fashion design. The origami art is the main idea to implement the 3D Geometric Dresses, so this research is focused on how we can benefit from the incorporation of origami art as three-dimensional sculptural forms into the Garment Design. But with the help of creative and smart tools and the combination of electronics, coding and origami, not only fabrics, but also origami elements can be used on clothes as wearable technologies.

Although nowadays the use of these elements in clothes is associated with limitations, but by taking steps in this field, using different materials as well as new electronic equipment, the capabilities of artists and the boundaries of art can be expanded.


Concept Visualisation:

For this project, we explored various folding techniques and finalised on working with one particular type of fold “Four Square Flasher”. We also realised that the advantage of using origami techniques helped in animating the elements. The four square flasher had interesting ways of anchoring to the surface and by just slightly moving from a single point, we were able to create a larger movement, ie, expand and contract.



Presentation + Documentation
Installation dimensions:
30cm x 30cm
Number of participants: Single/ Multiple users

Hardware: Arduino nano 33IOT (with uploaded code), LDR Light sensor, Bread board, Standard servos, LEDs, Micro USB cable, Pin plugs, Jumper plugs, Low profile jumper wires, Micro USB breakout, Powerbank
Software: Arduino IDE, C++

Materials: Parchment paper (main), wires, cardboard box, black paper, masking tape
Action Verb: To Expand

Hardware setup image:

Presentation image:





Fritzing diagram:

Project Video: 


Installation Design: We created a surface made up of various individual elements, which expand and contract in a rhythmic cycle. We worked on prototyping the individual units, then mounted them on the cardboard box. We also realised the possibilities this piece creates, when these individual units start interaction with each other.The box provides space to encase the hardware, wiring and the powersource(power bank). Slits and sockets were cut open on the top surface of the box, to hold the LED and Origami units. Wires are attached to the Origami units and connect through the slits to the servos. The slits also create a path for the movement of one servo angle to the other. The movement is aimed to be slow, to enhance the  feeling of being ‘Alive’.


User Experience
Idle state: The piece is in motion, the origami piece expands and contracts, movement is created using the standard servos. Each unit also contains an LED, timed and programmed to go High and Low, complementing the movement of the paper. 

Aware state: The piece responds to the LDR light sensor, when covered it stops moving, ie, responds to the user’s presence in its environment. The piece stops moving in response, and the LED maintains the brightness level from the time when the LDR was covered. When uncovered, it goes back to its idle state.

Feedback + Way-forward
We received feedback from individuals who observed the installation, and faculty members.

– Overall response was positive, it was interesting to see how the installation was perceived. Some felt the movement and sounds created by the folding origami units were soothing, while the others felt that it was chilling and terrifying to look at.

– Some were also interested to see other possible states and other patterns of movement.

Furthermore, should we decide to take this installation forward, we would like to explore the possibilities of creating a smoother movement and interactions between each of these individual units. We would also go back into the research process for identifying other possible materials to create this origami fold pattern. 

Kinetic Body Extensions for Social Interactions

Marina Leb “origami structure powered by arduino and proximity sensor”. Vimeo,2012,

Krijstelle Hyatt “Rhythmic Sleep- 2nd Design iteration”.Vimeo,2012

Paul Jackson. 2011. Folding Techniques for Designers: From Sheet to Form.

Lawrence King Publishing, London, United Kingdom.

“Transformer dress .” YouTube, uploaded by studioshillito, 25 Apr. 2011,

Links to the Artistic Inspirations

Hussein Chalayan

Diffusion Choir

Origami Four Square Flasher