All photographs by Katherine J. Igoe
Anne LaVin ’85 is showing an intermediate level origami class, made up of a dozen students aged 8 to 60, two different models. One is a small cat, long and white with a smug round face. The other is an unrecognizable mess of random angles.
“Believe it or not, this is actually the same model,” LaVin tells the class. “We’re going to fold this dry so that you understand the steps, and then we’ll fold wet to get the finished product.”
The OrigaMIT Convention, now in its sixth year, is an assortment of origami folders of every age range and skill level. The community is a small and quirky one. The 2016 convention, held Nov. 14 on MIT campus, brought nearly 200 participants from throughout the U.S. to join in their shared passion. Just like the creations, OrigaMIT is made of distinct layers that, fitted together, make a unique final product. “OrigaMIT fits MIT very well—a lot of people do origami just because it’s beautiful and fun," says Jason Ku ’09, SM ’11, PhD ’16, a CSAIL post-doc and former OrigaMIT club president. "But there’s this technical aspect of it that you can really go very far with.”
At this year's convention, expert folders displayed their work at an exhibition, which varies from geometric shapes to fantastical creatures to architectural vases. Participants could peruse the Model Menu, a table displaying models being taught that day, and choose ones they’d like to fold. In a room nearby, instructors such as Ku provided direction to beginners.
The convention and weekly club meetings include expert folders work on their own designs and projects are available for first-time folders. The club and convention are open to the public, but the MIT students and alumni are the heart of the group. MIT’s “maker” focus matches well with the craft.
“I love working with something that has interesting material properties," LaVin says. "And trying to understand those well enough that you can get it to do the thing you want it to do.”
Former club president Yongquan Lu ’16 uses his origami knowledge professionally. A software engineer in a 3-D printing startup, he thinks geometrically to translate solids into printable products. Lu marvels how OrigaMIT brings together what can often be an individual activity.
The club's sense of community is the layer that binds everyone together. The shared sense of camaraderie is palpable—between classes at the convention, participants chattered excitedly about what they learned and compare their work.
Lu loves it, and says it’s the best part of OrigaMIT. “When I came here, I was so excited to find a community,” he says. “I was like, ‘I’ve found my people."