A concept for a pavilion that adopts the Japanese practice kirigami wins the 2024 Forge Prize

The American Institute of Steel Construction’s 2024 Forge Prize winner Mile Zero is a conceptual steel shade structure inspired by Japanese art and complex technique kirigami. Similar to origami, kirigami is a practice also keen on folding, but takes the art form a step further allowing cuts in the paper. Those who learned origami as a child know that patience is key, so making a steel concept based on the technical technique is an undoubtedly an added challenge.

The Mile Zero team consists of Emily Baker, Vincent Edwards, and Edmund Harriss of the University of Arkansas; Princeton University’s Isabel Moreira de Oliveira; West Virginia University’s Eduardo Sosa; and Arkansas-based artist Reilly Dickens-Hoffman. 

Spin-Valence model (Courtesy American Institute of Steel Construction)

Baker, one of the winners of the prize, developed a term during graduate school called “Spin-Valence.” It refers to the ability to make spatial structures with steel the way it’s done with kirigami. After spending countless hours crafting the spin-valence idea, Baker was able to make prototypes, eventually leading to a metal example. 

“Once [Baker] described the whole Spin-Valence concept to me, I thought it was pretty innovative and seems like it could be a really interesting structural piece– but also architectural,” said Tony Diebold, a Hillsdale Fabricators structural engineer who helped develop a model with the team. The designers went on to cut and pull steel sheets to create a modular system that could be put together into multiple structural designs. The end result is a circular structure that blooms like a tree to provide shade and light.

Mile Zero design team - kirigami steel shade structure concept
Kirigami shade structure concept (Courtesy American Institute of Steel Construction)

The conceptualized structure is meant for Arkansas’s Razorback Regional Greenway, a multi-use track that spans 40 miles. The structure would initialize the start of the path but also supply a resting place for those who just want to enjoy the surrounding view or take photos. The structure’s park accessibility makes it a great centerpiece, but also a great bookend for the park itself.

“We thought the shade structure was remarkably innovative in the way that it took steel and used it in such an interesting fashion, with the folding and stacking,” said Forge Prize judge Reed Kroloff.

The innovative concept could be best applied to any park across America with many of them needing shaded structures where busy parents can find respite while their children buzz around. Like its kirigami counterpart, the structure comes to bring peace with whimsy—and is a great achievement in steel innovation.

Forge Prize runner-ups, included an idea for a community center in Boston with a complex structural, steel grid facade; and a modular system from Rice University faculty and students engineered for cooling to support irrigation.

Last year the award recognized an innovative concept for an electric vehicle charging station.

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