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Paper Moon 

Origami superstar Takaaki Kihara folds under pressure

Takaaki Kihara is an origami master from Tokyo, and that's pretty cool, but three things set him apart from other folks skilled at the Japanese art of paper folding and make his creations marvelous to behold.

1. His specialty is origami models of famous buildings. Examples of his "origamic architecture," as he calls it, include the Leaning Tower of Pisa and his elegant model of the Sydney Opera House, which may be seen at the Cooper-Hewitt National Design Museum in New York. For his visit to St. Louis, he is creating models of some local landmarks, including the Gateway Arch and the New Cathedral.

2. Kihara designs his paper structures so that they can be folded flat. When the paper is unfolded to 90 or 180 degrees, the origami building rises from the page in the manner of a pop-up book. This makes the entire proposition much more difficult to plan -- he must put his talents as a structural engineer to use and really think ahead. Even still, he says, he can take one of these things from concept to finished product in about eight hours. He just thinks about "front view and top view," he explains.

3. He has created some jumbo-size origami. Using corrugated cardboard, he was able to construct a magnificent 3-foot-high structure of terraced landings and staircases. The unfolded building served as a birthday card for his son. The centerpiece of his visit here will be a maquette of the St. Louis Art Museum façade that will reach 5 feet in height, dwarfing most origami. This will be the largest model Kihara has ever completed.

As part of their retrospective exhibit on Japanese architect Tadao Ando, the folks at the St. Louis Art Museum are flying in the master of origamic architecture. Watching his paper buildings pop up will wow you.

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