Origami-Inspired Facade Design

Parametric Studies for Architectural and Structural Efficiency



Photo of Joshua Schultz, Ph.D, P.E., LEED AP, ENV SP

Joshua Schultz, Ph.D, P.E., LEED AP, ENV SP

Assistant Professor

Gonzaga University


Photo of Neil Katz, AIA

Neil Katz, AIA

Skidmore, Owings & Merrill




To paraphrase Robert le Ricolias, the art of the structure is where to put the folds. Using that inspiration, fundamental concepts from origami, topology optimization and architecture are combined in parametric design studies for structurally and architecturally efficient facades. With the rapid rise in computing power and access to parametric software platforms, engineers and architects have been enabled to design buildings that are willfully inefficient for the sake of architectural expression. This research provides a way to couple artistic expression with structural efficiency by examining the potential efficiencies inherent in origami-inspired building envelope.

Several architectural strategies from constructed high-rise buildings are examined as examples of how architectural expression can help or hinder facade efficiency. The studies use daylighting or “self-shading” (architectural constraint) and stress ratios (structural constraint) to evaluate the impact of adjusting panelized geometry. A detailed parametric study of origami-inspired structural components and systems is presented as a baseline procedure for designers. Architectural implications of self-shading are evaluated using Grasshopper scripts and post-processing macros. The structural implications of the layouts have been analyzed with 3D FEA software using scripts to automate the analysis and results are interpreted in terms of material efficiency. Preliminary results of the method used on the Beijing Greenland Center case study indicate that origami-inspired topology resulted in a façade system that is 30% more energy efficient (i.e., reduction in solar gain) with 10% less material than the original geometry.


Historically, the development of the building skin as an independent building element distinct from the gravity and lateral load bearing system(s) emancipated certain aesthetic considerations from previous structural limitations. However

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Design and performance of tall buildings has been an area of major concern for practitioners and researchers alike, with efforts to more efficiently design tall buildings going back to the

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Research Method

An initial baseline case (i.e., flat wall) was established for Beijing Greenland Tower, then solar irradiation parametric studies were completed for a range of modular origami unit. First the studies

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Data and Results

Self-Shading Results

DIVA, which is a plug-in for Grasshopper and Rhino was used for analysis, verification of the environmental impact of a design, and optimization of selected parameters

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The architectural optimization showed that maximizing the protrusion depth and pleat width provides the optimal typology (i.e., resulted in maximum self-shading which at the project latitude resulted in maximum building

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Conclusion and Future Work

The Beijing Greenland Center benefitted from the sequential optimization process which resulted in improved aesthetics, energy and material efficiency. The case study provides a compelling example of the advantages to

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The authors gratefully acknowledge Skidmore, Owings & Merrill for the use of images.

Rights and Permissions

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