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One Fold is an exploration of the spatial and structural potential resulting from the simple folding of a sheet of stainless steel. It is inspired by the abstract origami of Paul Jackson who was challenged by one of his students to make an origami object by folding a piece of paper only once.

2015 – RAIC Innovation in Architecture Award
2014 – Architect Magazine R+D Award

We started by folding squares of paper in the traditional manner to gain an understanding of the formal possibilities of this radically reduced origami. However, while it is possible to fold a piece of paper and subsequently break the fold to create a stable three dimensional form, it is difficult to do this in steel; paper is pliant and can be forced to break across an existing fold, while steel sheet becomes extremely strong when folded and virtually impossible to break in this manner.

To study this problem we began working with 2’ square sheets of 24 gauge galvanized sheet metal. We made a hole in the sheet and folded it across the hole. We were then able to force the sheet metal to break across the fold at the location of the hole much like paper. However as soon as we increased the size and thickness of the steel sheet we found that our ability to mimic the behavior of paper quickly diminished. As our objective was to fold a sheet of stainless steel large enough to form an enclosure we realized that we would require a technique very different from the one Paul Jackson had used to fold an origami object.

Our solution to this problem was to invent a machine that would simultaneously fold a steel sheet and break the sheet across the fold.

It is the simultaneity of both operations which makes it possible to do in steel what is sequentially possible in paper. Working through a series of sheets of increasing size we were able to enlarge and refine the machine to successfully form an 18 gauge 5’ x 12’ sheet (the largest sheet sized stocked in Vancouver) into a stable, self-supporting ‘broken’ vault – a shape in which the stresses introduced into the sheet of steel by the folding/breaking operation are released in unrestrained surfaces and edges to form complex curves of stunning ‘natural’ beauty.

To demonstrate the spatial and structural potential of this ‘broken’ vault we developed a design for a simple landscape shelter utilizing three 10’ x 24’ sheets of stainless steel. The resulting assemblage of vaulted forms shares the juxtaposition of straight line and graceful curve, delicacy and animate presence of the Winnipeg Skating Shelters, further enhanced by the lustrous surfaces of stainless steel.

Date: 2011

Architect: Patkau Architects Inc.
Project Team: John Patkau, Patricia Patkau with Tyler Brown, James Eidse Tom Schroeder, and Luke Stern

Photos: James Dow / Patkau Architects