Plywood Napkins: Revisiting the Fold through Recursion

by Alexander Timmer (MArch '16), Irving Innovation Fellow, 2016-2017

Plywood Napkins explores the possibility of formulating a methodology for design through the deployment of a simple, repeated cutting operation. Each piece is cut, the cutoffs are then flipped and glued back together. The object then settles per its natural tendency and the process is repeated. As the surface is edited, it no longer rests flat on the table. A nominal 20-degree cut, set by a fixed saw, varies relative to the surface’s global and local permutations at any one time.

The resulting surfaces exhibit both negative and positive feedback, as the subsequent cuts cause the surface to fold in onto itself. While its footprint shrinks, its mass is conserved. At the same time, each cut and flip causes misalignments, which grow with each higher-order cut. The designer engages continuously in a dialogue between continuity and error, local expression and global form, and design intent and material intelligence.