Book Review: ‘The Art of Modular Origami’ by Joseph Hwang

Edited by Scott Summers

I started to fold 45 years ago from four books of Robert Harbin, “Origami 1” through “Origami 4.” Together, they included only three modular models.

That is why, 20 years later, I was shocked when Tomoko Fuse’s “Unit Origami: Multidimensional Transformations” was published. I had no idea that all those shapes were doable from origami. Even today, modulars are one of my favorite origami genres.

Due to that interest, I was delighted to review “The Art of Modular Origami,” by Joseph Hwang. Although the title does not hint at it, this book is dedicated to spherical models — AKA kusadamas — only. That means that all diagrams ask for 30 units and create either dodecahedral or icosahedral patterns.

The Technicalities

The models are presented in what seems a random order. They are grouped into three chapters, named I, II, and III, but what defines each group is unclear.

All the models start with a full-page image of the model and one to three pages of diagrams. Last in the diagram is the assembly of three units. There are no steps to explain the full assembly, which will require some basic knowledge of modular construction from the folder.

The content pages present clear and attractive images of all the models. There is a short explanation about tools and paper choices along with diagrams of an icosahedron and a dodecahedron. Since all units are the actual edges of the polyhedra, you just need to follow those two diagrams to assemble the desired model.

The Symbols page has only the eight symbols used, from a valley fold to a squash.

The shortest diagrams are eight steps for the unit, and the longest is 23 steps. The average is about 12 steps, and assembly is no more than eight steps, usually three or four.

Diagrams

All diagrams in this book were made by Joseph Hwang. At the end of this article are downloadable diagrams for Nexus.

The author is a well-practiced diagrammer, and the diagrams are clear and easy to read. Although there is no shading, it was easy to follow them and the (very) few mistakes are usually unnoticed (a missing flip-over symbol, for example).

The use of symbols is standard, and most of the steps are accompanied by text.

There are four rows of diagrams, with four steps in a row.

However, it seems the author takes a spartan approach. Besides diagrams and images, there is no additional information at all. The lack of information regarding a recommended paper size forced me to fold two to three units in order to understand if I had chosen the right size. In two cases, I did not.

Folding

Astra

Astra, the first model in the book. Folded from 7.5 cm Kami. Photographed by Ilan Garibi.

With only eight steps per unit, this was a quick model to finish. The connection may look flimsy but is surprisingly strong, and the final result is sturdy and holds the shape well. I needed clips to hold the modules together during assembly, but since each group of three units is connected with a concave part, that produces stability.

Lucent

Lucent demonstrates how a bad paper choice can affect the result. Left: from 7.5 cm kami, folded and photographed by Ilan Garibi. Right: from Canson Mi-Teintes, folded and photographed by Joseph Wang.

This is another model from Chapter I. Here, I truly needed a better paper choice. The unit is simple and takes only 11 steps. The connection is good, but the lock tends to open once you try to add a new module or play with the units. My biggest problem was with the shaping of the module; it needs to be molded into a circular shape, and kami is not the right paper to hold it evenly. I should have used Tant, for example. I am sure that Tant would have held the lock better due to the friction of the surface. The uneven shaping created a crooked ball. Looking at the model in the book, I am sure I could have done much better.

Apex

Apex, a good-looking model with a strong connection. Folded from 7.5 cm kami and photographed by Ilan Garibi.

This is the first model in Chapter III. The unit has 16 steps and, like the ones before, is straightforward in the making. You do need to open sink the corner of a waterbomb base, but this is the hardest step.

The connection is strong in a most satisfying way. There is so much joy in a strong and stable connection.

Folding it from simple kami was good enough, and the final model is firm and looks great.

Coral

Coral, my favorite model. Folded from 7.5 cm Kami and photographed by Ilan Garibi.

This is another model from Chapter III. There are 15 numbered steps, but with a “Repeat 7 to 12 on the other side,” it takes some time to finish.

As always, the unit by itself is simple to fold.

The connection is based on a tiny flap, and at first glance, I was sure it wouldn’t hold. Surprisingly, it does. And more than that, it holds quite well.

The final model is beautiful and, unlike the sample in the book, benefits from a lovely color change.

Conclusion

This is a book that covers a small fraction of the origami world. All models are spherical, and although some look similar to others, most of them stand out in the crowd and are quite beautiful.

The book is not for beginners. The assembly is presented in an abbreviated way, but if you manage to assemble one model, you will manage them all.

Bottom line: A good buy.

Author Interview - The Five Essential Questions

Q Tell me a little about yourself.

A I am an origami artist based in Southern California. My work focuses on modular origami and designs inspired by nature. I have authored two books: “Natural Origami” (2020) and “The Art of Modular Origami” (2021).

Q What is the essence of the book? (What makes it stand out, who was your target audience, etc.?)

A The essence of the book is unique, but traditionalist. It contains 30 models, each from 30 squares with no cuts or glue. I tried to create a collection of pieces that fully express a diversity of possible designs. The book is intended for intermediate to high-level folders.

Q If I can fold only one model from your book, which should it be, and why?

A The Spider [on the cover of the book], because it is my favorite out of the series.

Q Which is the hardest model in the book? What makes it hard to fold?

A The most difficult to assemble might be Strato because it has a complex locking sequence that requires tweezers. The longest to fold are Ribbon, Pixie and Spider.

Q What was most enjoyable in the process of the making of this book?

A The most enjoyable process was receiving the final proof copy and determining the book was ready to publish.

Diagrams: Nexus

For an idea of Joseph Huang’s style, try these diagrams. See PDF diagrams.