The Influence of Nature on Origami Design

Dr. Robert Lang on Origami Inspiration.

Dr. Robert Lang
Carly Williams
Nathalie Attallah & Carly Williams
Genmai Cha

The Influence of Nature on Origami Design

Dr. Robert Lang on the inspiration he draws from the natural world

Celebrated NASA physicist, theorist, author, and origami artist Dr. Robert Lang uses his vast knowledge of mathematics and engineering principles to fold among the most intricate origami designs. 

In this outtake from our documentary The Garden of Secrets, Dr. Lang speaks to his approach to origami design, sharing how his best work comes from a close look at the natural subject. One may be able to find photographs of subjects on the internet, however, experiencing the object in person uncovers important details and can spark brighter inspiration.

All of my representational work is based on nature, and my best origami designs come only after a very close look at the natural subject.

-Dr. Robert Lang

Photo: Dr. Robert Lang

This interview has been lightly edited for grammar and length.

Why should designers and artists look to plants for inspiration?

There have been and continues to be a lot of clever solutions implemented by the natural world to the engineering problems that arise there. 

We continue to find examples of elegant solutions in both animal and plant life to structural problems, materials and the like.

Nature doesn’t have a wealth of mathematics at its disposal. But it has had a couple of billion years of time to experiment. Evolution is a very powerful and efficient mechanism of refining solutions to find better and better ones. It behooves us to find solutions from nature when they exist, to give us a leg up on solving our world problems. 

There’s something about seeing the real thing up close that touches you deeply, that gives you a perspective that one can’t get from simple imagery. That has helped my origami design immensely.

Do people take plants for granted?

Folks don’t realize how much interplay there is between plants, the environment, the ground and us. There is a web of relationships, and plants very often anchor that relationship. 

By learning more about plants, it enriches our world. Not just in our understanding of plants, but in our understanding of where we fit within the universe.

What should viewers take away from this documentary?

Be curious about nature.

Explore nature, find out about it, look for the relationships between plants and other plants, between plants and animals, animals and ourselves, the environment and ourselves. 

There’s a rich web of relationships, and we ignore those relationships at our peril.


For more from Dr. Robert Lang, visit his website or read A Mathematician Approaches Origami Differently

Explore the documentary The Garden of Secrets here.