Giant Outdoor Origami Paper (or equivalent)
April 26, 2021 9:48 PM   Subscribe

I want some very large waterproof material that will hold creases, and can be folded/unfolded lots of times without breaking. Bonus points for not plastic or other petrochemicals.

I'm looking to create a folded structure sort of like this one, big enough for an adult human to stand in.

Ideas so far include:
- waxed cardboard or heavy paper (concerned that the waterproofing wouldn't last long)
- coroplast (but it's plastic)
- panels of some non-foldable material (thin plywood?) joined at the edges with waterproofed fabric or some kind of flexible tape
posted by sibilatorix to Grab Bag (9 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Waxed canvas perhaps? You may need to get "heavily" waxed canvas to hold its shape.
posted by tipsyBumblebee at 9:58 PM on April 26, 2021 [1 favorite]

panels of some non-foldable material (thin plywood?) joined at the edges with waterproofed fabric or some kind of flexible tape

I think that's probably going to be your best bet. If the structure only has to bear its own weight, three-ply should be plenty strong enough. You'd want to chamfer the edges of the panels and then paint them to create a nice non-porous surface. Gaffer tape should then hold them together strongly enough, especially if you make double-sided joints with the tape stuck to the panels for only about a third of its width, with the central third meeting sticky side to sticky side to create the fold zone.
posted by flabdablet at 10:23 PM on April 26, 2021 [1 favorite]

What about Tyvek over some kind of frame (maybe armature wire for a smaller shape, or wood 1x1s or 1x2s?)? You could rig it to fold up by having removable frame pieces, or by using gravity, or connecting the frame pieces with fishing line and staking them to use tension to hold it up... Lots of options.

Tyvek wouldn't be stiff panels, but it would give you a white translucent structure made out of something durable and weatherproof. They sell plain white unbranded Tyvek. I've seen it used instead of rice paper in a Japanese teahouse and it looked gorgeous with light coming through the fibers.
posted by cnidaria at 12:08 AM on April 27, 2021 [1 favorite]

Tyvek is indeed excellent stuff, but it's about as petrochemical as you can possibly get.
posted by flabdablet at 1:29 AM on April 27, 2021 [3 favorites]

That is correct. I do not earn the bonus points :-) Personally, I'd take Tyvek over plywood, which is full of formaldehyde, but that's just me.
posted by cnidaria at 3:29 AM on April 27, 2021 [3 favorites]

The weight of plywood will really affect the ability of the structure to stand. Canvas comes in a lot of weights, I'd test waxing some and see what you can build.
posted by theora55 at 7:58 AM on April 27, 2021

I do love that origami structure. I think you'll want to use different materials for the panels and joints.

A lot of people at Burning Man build "hexayurts" (you can find lots of how-to guides on these) out of styrofoam insulation panels that are taped together using a very specific bidirectional strapping tape to form reasonably strong joints so that the whole thing can pack flat and be erected quickly. Of course, you could use just about anything for the rigid panels. The tape does not hold up forever—like most tapes, the adhesive dries out. Although not nearly as slick as this, a lot of burners also build "monkey huts" that have the same general quonset-hut design, using PVC tubing and billboard vinyl. Obviously all these materials are very synthetic.

If you could get an enormous sheet of butyl rubber, you could glue or rivet triangular frames made out of any rigid material to it to create the panels. I think ½" plywood would work for this, but if you wanted to go crazy, you could have aluminum or stainless steel sheets waterjet cut and do something decorative. Alternately, you could create solid triangular panels and glue or rivet rubber strips (could be old bike innertubes cut up) between them to create the hinges.

If you haven't already, give a thought to how you will anchor this against the wind.
posted by adamrice at 8:47 AM on April 27, 2021 [1 favorite]

I would suggest looking around for a supplier, or better yet, a recycler of large cardboard sheets.

You could apply a water based coating to water proof it, and reinforce the creases you make with some tape.
posted by nickggully at 1:05 PM on April 27, 2021

Waterproofed canvas (beeswax would avoid the petrochemicals of paraffin wax but way more expensive, there are also silicone sprays available at camping places) with long thin pockets sowen in for bamboo stiffeners at the joints might work.
posted by Mitheral at 7:56 PM on April 27, 2021

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