Alexander Taylor: Structure as story
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Alexander Taylor: Structure as story

A group of our teachers from Abbeyfield valiantly executed a series of structural challenges using only card: folded, cut and joined. One team made a lovely pop-up picture with ingenious moving parts.  It might be a tad picky; however it seemed they diminished its impact by colouring it in; making it more of a picture than a structure. More of a picture than it needed to be to tell the story of what it was: an ingenious structure.

Imagine if Thomas Heatherwick’s Seed Cathedral, aka the UK Pavilion at the 2010 Shanghai Pavilion, had been mounted on a green stalk to remind everyone of its resemblance to a dandelion puff (and of its utility as a container of seeds); or if the ‘copper kettles’ forming his composite Olympic Cauldron had contained tissue paper flames to reassure viewers, in advance of the stupendous ignition, that they had a meaning.

The infelicitous colouring in of the pop-up book reminded me how many of the designs we admire and respond to most warmly are pure structure. They represent nothing beyond the quietly awesome phenomena of standing up unsupported, packing flat, holding a curve in tension without snapping, enclosing a volume with minimal surface, acquiring 3-dimensionality, being ingeniously joined or just the right size in relation to the adjacent part, and so on.

Alexander Taylor’s Fold Light, launched by Established & Sons in 2005, is one such design.  By means of simple cuts and folds in a single sheet of steel, it stands tall and surrounds the bulb. Sportswear enthusiasts may know of his more recent advance with Adidas from the structural properties of folds to those of knots.

Alexander Taylor showed 250 Year 7 students at Abbeyfield School his own Wonderful World of Folds and led a massive design workshop in which they too responded to our folding challenge with little more than a sheet of card each. We modified the brief: no colour allowed; the structure should be the story.

Armed with only a sheet of A3 card, tape, scissors, rulers and Taylor’s inspirational examples of the structural and functional wonders of folded material (from a cycling helmet and a flat-pack boat to his own Fold light), they chose from a series of prompts: “Enclose the biggest volume you can”, “Make a structure that fits your head”, “Make a structure that stands on four, three or two legs”, “Make a stable structure with at least one moveable part”, “Make a structure to transport sand or water” and “Make a structure to display someone else’s structure”. Here are some of their structures, with special commendations to the pupils who resisted designing a product (table, bag etc.) in favour of simply inventing a structure that could answer the challenge.

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