The History of Origami: From Art to Airbags

by Lindsay Shapka in


Origami (ori: folding and kami: paper) is the Japanese art of paper folding that originated sometime in the 17th century. According to historical documents, it was originally used to make butterflies for wedding decorations, and tokens that Samurai warriors exchanged with each other. 

Essentially, origami is the act of making 3D sculptures out of a flat, square piece of paper. Any size or type of paper can be used, as long as it has the ability to hold a crease, making this a very accessible art form (unlike painting, photography or other forms of sculpture that require costly materials, anyone can make a crane from a scrap piece of paper!).  Because of the intricate folds required to create this art, it cannot be mass-produced making each piece completely unique.

American artist Robert J. Lang is recognized as one of the world’s leading masters of the art and has had over 500 designs catalogued and diagrammed (check out the moose on his home page-so cool!). He believes that, like music, origami is both a composition and a performance that can be interpreted in many different ways. He has done some amazing large-scale origami sculptures made using massive sheets of paper and he lectures regularly on origami’s connection to math, science and technology. He has even consulted on some technological designs that are widely used today.

Like music, origami is both a composition and a performance that can be interpreted in many different ways.

Studying the mathematics behind origami has led to the techniques used for the deployment of car airbags and stent implants (artificial tube inserted into a passage in the body to prevent/counteract a blockage) from a folded position.

This means that, whether in your car or on the operating table, the art of paper folding could save your life!

You can’t say the same about a watercolor, that’s for sure.