Paper mosaics

When I first came across origami tessellation online about twelve years ago it was not from a search for origami, it was from a website for geometry enthusiasts. It should be no surprise that this particular form of paperfolding seemed to spring up among mathematicians and scientists – those who find satisfaction in order and elegant solutions to complex problems. Nor should it be a surprise that the earliest practitioners of origami tessellation often had names adorned with letters fore and aft, such as “Dr.” and “PhD”. The name “tessellation” used to designate this kind of origami was borrowed from the field of mathematics, referring to the regular division of a plane by repeating geometric shapes.

“Tessellation” from “tesserae”, the little squares of stone or glass used by the ancient Romans to create mosaics.

Now there are a couple of ways to go about designing a new tessellation. The technique I settled upon years ago was to pre-crease a grid in a piece of paper and then using the geometry of the grid alone, start folding in an improvisational way and see what works and what doesn’t.  It can be hit and miss, but it suits my style. Another approach is to plan the design out first and create a crease pattern before you begin folding.  Origami really is math incarnate, so if you know the math you can have a fairly good idea if a design will work before you make your first crease.

You could even create software to help realize your ideas.

Alex Bateman has a scientific approach to origami. He also divides his time folding with such things as classifying non-coding ribonucleic acids. I believe I first encountered his work (origami, not genetic) on his user page at the Sanger Institute website when I was just getting my feet wet in the whole origami tessellation thing, many years ago. That page is gone but he has a website of his own since around 2006. That’s absolutely ancient in internet time, but it is still a valuable resource, not just for images of his own work but for the Tess software and e-books that are available there.

And though he has been on a bit of an origami hiatus, happily he is still folding and creating new crease patterns to share.

As his nom de pliage “Paper Mosaics” implies, Alex is true to the literal meaning of Origami Tessellation: folded paper mosaics. He explores the great variety of geometric forms that can divide a plane, many that would be difficult if not impossible to replicate from a pre-creased grid.

If you are new to tessellation then you might not be aware of his work, but I highly recommend having a look. It will inspire you as it had inspired me. He can even show you how to fold your very own origami DNA double helix.

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