Pleats & Folds: An Exploration of the Metamorphosis of Architecture and Atmosphere

Florence de Lisle

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Glide Reflection Pleat

Pleats and Folds is an exploration in iterative model-making using origami pleating and folding techniques. It aims to demonstrate how the kinetics of pleated forms can strengthen the expression of atmosphere through the haptic senses. Paper artefacts are interrogated by hand to determine how movement through folds can inform architecture, manifesting as continuous day-to-day movement or assemblage and deconstruction. Connections to the moving elements of nature: air, light, and water, or the circulation of people within space help to inform physical architectural transformation whilst reinforcing the link between person and environment. The iterative process concurrently reveals the value of the unfinished, abstract, and ambiguous in the progression and articulation of ideas throughout four phases.

Initial exploration of the unique expression of movement, texture, and pattern of various folded forms is carried out as individual tangible objects free from scale using paper and textiles. This series of tests establishes a contextual framework within phenomenology through the congruence between the process of modelling by hand and traditional methods of hand-forming architecture, speaking to the haptic senses. The form and dimension from each fold offer intricate interaction with light and shadow and the articulation of time. The kinetics of each pleat reveal how they can contribute to the transformation of space, manipulating spatial density and architectural thresholds—from open to closed, light to dark, and in to out. Active thresholds correlate to the concept of ma and the intertwining of separation and connection, sensing what is beyond the edge of perception. Textile tests focus on the link between body and space relating to the enclosure forming of the nomadic tent and the transience of space between clothing and the body as the body instigates movement. This series of making and subsequent critique uncovers the prospective use of pleated forms in architecture to prompt participation using kinetic elements and strengthen the linkage to the natural environment through blurred boundaries to explore in subsequent phases. Transformation along the flexible axis of each fold shows contrasting form at the commencement and conclusion of each movement and the ephemeral nature of the moments in between. These moments of pause or suspension offer diverging possibilities from dynamic movement.



Design interventions at Auckland Art Gallery Toi o Tāmaki test design exploration from phase one in an existing building, exploring how the implementation of pleated forms could enhance the experience of the gallery for its visitors. These tests investigate ways to manipulate circulation routes and allow visitors to author or affect the space they occupy, enhance the connection to the surrounding park landscape, and improve the democratic nature of this civic building by providing better access and usability to dead spaces. On sliding tracks, a series of parabola canopies on the sculpture terrace reflect the kauri canopies in the existing building and neighbouring park, expanding and retracting in accord with varying installations and weather conditions. A flexible glide reflection wall shifts the boundaries of private and public space through compression and release. V-pleat walls punctuate space and offer flexibility in the control of light in daylit gallery spaces. The junction between the heritage and new gallery buildings explores a flexible floor to expand and compress bridged access in response to circulation and volume of occupants.

Architecture as installation is explored in the atrium, with a rigged system offering the opportunity to rearrange a series of glide reflection pleats with less restriction, providing an immersive and haptic encounter. Despite the supporting frames or tracks in phase two allowing drastic kinetic movement, they impeded the expression of atmosphere, detracting from the sculptural qualities of the pleats as they were bound to a specific path. The power in the moments of suspension further revealed the need to explore the architectural capacity of these pleated forms independent of an existing building or framed structure.


Finished Product

In phase three, the testing of pleated surfaces erected with tensile components proved paper folds could be utilised to support ‘suspended’ sculptural form, manifesting as a proposal for a kit-of-parts folly for the Auckland Art Gallery Toi o Tamaki in various settings across the city. The expression of atmosphere was apparent throughout this making process in the shimmering of the suspended pleats in response to the wind and their fragmentary indeterminant arrangement. Variations in the arrangement of the folly parts through assemblage and deconstruction accommodated the needs of the site and the public through blurred boundaries and interaction between people and between body and space.

Phase four making tests the scaling capacity of pleated paper and textiles and explores the translation of folded form into composite materials using the simple glide reflection geometry. This phase intends to provide a foundation of design research through materiality testing to be further investigated beyond this thesis, questioning the buildability and translation of the tensile structure at scale. Using the handcrafted methodology implemented throughout this body of work to test the architectural application of paper or cardboard as a structural, sculptural material, the pleating tests demonstrated a need to develop this concept with experts in material development to actualise a potentially viable solution to test in a real-world one-to-one scale. The four phases express a cultivated ambiguity of design process rather than finished products. The exploration of analogue model making ensure a truthfulness to the possibilities and limitations of the architectural pleat, retained in the final phase scaling of model-making experiments. The development of the concept and deepening of understanding of pleated forms as architecture throughout the four consecutive phases does not seek conclusion. It becomes not a final product but a continued questioning for possible architectural futures.


Critic's Text

In considering Florence de Lisle’s thesis, Pleats & Folds: An Exploration of the Metamorphosis of Architecture and Atmosphere, two aspects stand out. The first is the topic itself: the complex territory of kinetic architecture. Buildings that change through movement is a realm where few venture. The second is the unrelenting iterative model making exploration of the kinetic, haptic and structural qualities of folding and pleats, beautifully exemplifying the power and value of making in design research. Three series of explorations build a repertoire and lead to evolving and challenging kinetics, creating powerful architectural atmospheres.

The first series of experiments is an open-ended, joyous dive into paper folding, creating fantastic, materialised artefacts and generating associated tectonic folding techniques and knowledge subsequently applied throughout the rest of the thesis. Here, the history and craftsmanship of pleating and textiles are explored. This combines with an investigation into the correlation between movement and atmosphere using origami pleating to provide a contextual framework within phenomenological theory.

The second series develops and deploys design experiments in an architectural context, exploring the application of different pleats and systems to the Auckland Art Gallery Toi o Tāmaki. In the process, it creates some sublime experiential moments such as sliding translucent tessellated screens.

The third series of experiments investigates frameless pleats and folds creating a stunning sculptural pavilion that speaks to the architecture of the folly. The design cleverly deploys tensioning techniques to show how folds have self-supporting qualities to create gravity defying beautiful and creature-like structures. The series progresses the notion that the intensifying of atmosphere is not solely reliant on big active movements of the pleat, instead showing how assemblage and deconstruction play a part.

The final series of experiments begins to develop and shift the work towards possible architectural futures through material and scale. Here the focus is on paper-like materials and the use of textiles, sometimes combined as hybrid materials. The critical reflection of the thesis shows a deep understanding of the potentials and structural limits of the materials at different scales. The thesis ends with a clear future path to continue exploring the potential of these kinetic forms and reflects on the importance of the making process over the outcome.

-Chris Barton, supervisor