One of the crafts I’ve practiced the longest is Origami.  I haven’t done much with it in a long time, as I flit from craft to craft like a spastic butterfly at times, but I do dabble with it during the occasional moment of free time when I don’t have much available to entertain me.  Since all you need for Origami is paper, it’s an easy craft for spontaneous entertainment.

One of my all-time favorite origami books is Unit Origami: Multidimensional Transformations by Tomoko Fuse.  It’s a wonderful collection of origami projects based on combining finite units into potentially infinitely expanding systems.  It’s a math geek’s dream book of origami.  I’ve read and used this book more than any other origami book I own, and I own more than a few.  The draw of Unit Origami is that each individual piece is simple to build, but recombination of those units can lend great complexity to the piece.  And certain pieces can be grown almost indefinitely.  The strength of the substrate (paper) being the only real limit to how expansive the structure can be, since at some point the structure will collapse under its own weight if built too large.

Unfortunately, this particular book has been out of print since 1990 and there don’t appear to be any pending reprints of the book planned since origami’s popularity has dwindled significantly with the rise of papercraft into the spotlight.  Even so,  you can still snag a used copy of this book for about $25, which is expensive for a used book, but still worth it in my mind.  Tomoko Fuse has also written a wide array of other Origami books, all of which are fantastic; I own several of them.

One of my all-time favorite units from the book is the Sonobe unit.  The Sonobe unit is awesome because it’s fast and easy to make and is infinitely expandable in two ways.  First the individual units can be spliced together to form a wide array of polyhedra.  Second, the polyhedra themselves can be fused together with the use of joining pieces to create large structures of polyhedra.  For instance:

This is roughly 6 months worth of time spent out of my lunch breaks. Roughly 10-15 minutes per break depending on how quickly I can wolf down my lunch.

As you can see, it’s built out of recycled paper.  Ever since middle school I’ve developed a habit of peeking into recycle bins for nice paper; it’s a habit that earned me an unfortunate reputation in middle school as a dumpster crawler.  This particular project is made out of alternate language user manuals that came for a system.  Since the users of the system only needed the one in English, I got the manuals written in the other 22 languages.  This piece is made out of 8 cubes.  Each cube is made out of 6 Bird Sonobe units, and each cube is attached to its neighbors with connection pieces.

Bird Sonobe Unit:

First, you’ll need a square of paper.  You can use normal origami paper, or you can cut a square out of recycled paper like I do.  I’ll assume that you know how to cut a “perfect” square out of a rectangular piece of paper.  If not, let me know in the comments and I’ll make a post on it.  When building a bird unit, cutting a square out of a piece of paper will actually take longer than actually folding up the unit (seriously, it takes about 2 minutes to cut a square from a fresh piece of paper, and about 1 minute to fold it up).

I had originally taken several pictures of how this is done, but have since found a much better guide on how to make this unit over at Papercrane.  The basic Sonobe unit was originally designed by Mitsunobu Sonobe whereas the bird Sonobe unit is a diagonal variation designed by Tomoko Fuse (as such it’s sometimes called the Tomoko Bird Sonobe).

Step 6 below is the completed bird Sonobe unit.

Image linked to original PDF source (which is much higher resolution and easier to read).

The bird unit can also be put together in multiples of three, the basic premise on how to do this can be found here; though in this case they only make symmetric polyhedral units.  With some ingenuity, you can string together bird units to create some quite interesting shapes.

I’ll try to touch on some of the permutations of the Bird Sonobe, as well as go over a few of the basic sub-units that can be recombined.  I’ll also share the pattern for making the little connectors in order to make modular structures like I posted above.

-Confusion is a state of mind, or is it?