The Large-scale Geometric Origami From Foldability’s Kyla McCallum Is Mesmerising

The precision and delicacy of origami structuring has been subjected to a different sort of design in the work of Kyla McCallum’s London studio Foldability. Using hand-made pressing techniques and innovative, stiffened materials on a limitless scale that has yielded everything from lighting installations to fashion-show set-designs.


McCallum – the studio’s founder – has found bestowed upon her the title “London’s new Queen of Origami”, and it seems, her kingdom is growing: the studio’s work has been featured in a myriad of prints and promotions, from the Sunday Times Style magazine to the billboards of Bank underground station, each piece demonstrating the beguiling properties of the materials McCallum works with.


The razor-blade precision, the dizzying compressions of rectilinear patterns, the sharp appearance that often belies the softer origins of the fabric of which it is made, all off-set by a tendency towards muted colours and the softer lighting around which the materials are wrapped and cajoled. Where one might expect here a charming dissonance, there is instead only a curious and perfect fit.


A return exhibitor at Designjunction, we spoke to McCallum following her appearance at 2016’s exhibition. To see her bolts of concertina-geometry was a curious find among the polished and complete products; we discuss the production of these innovative materials, and the purposes for which they are used.


The Plus: What brought you into the world of installation & lighting design?
Kyla McCallum:
I began working with lighting in 2009 during my Master of European Design. I studied at the Glasgow School of Art and spent 2 years studying abroad in Cologne and Milan. In my spare time I started playing with origami and became quite quickly obsessed! One day I just tried putting a lamp inside one of my origami pieces and it all started from there!


TP: How do you approach new projects?
Usually I am given a brief by a client, then I undertake some research and develop concepts and solutions to meet the requirements of the project. For my own personal projects I am continually playing with new materials and trying to develop new products and concepts inspired by origami and geometry. Each project I work on is unique so my approach does tend to vary.


TP: What do you think attracts your growing client list to your particular brand of geometric design?
Only my clients can really answer that but I would guess it’s probably my precision formed approach and attention to detail. I’m very particular about symmetry, clean lines and making sure that everything is well finished to a really high standard.
Also, aesthetically there are so many different applications that are possible with origami so I my clients see the potential for what is possible and often get in touch with a brief in mind.

TP: From initial ideas to the finished product, how are your pieces produced?
I keep a portfolio of initial concepts and a library of foldable materials which I am constantly adding to, so I can dip into this when new projects come in.
The majority of my designs are produced in-house in my London studio. I work with a team of freelancers who help with in-house production.
I also have a number of external suppliers around the UK who produce components for designs, such as wire bending, powder coating, cutting and creasing. Most elements in my designs are hand-crafted rather than machine made.


TP: Are there any difficulties with working in this medium? How many types of materials have been used so far?
With folding fabrics it can be tricky to find the perfect material for the application, as often I need to find something specific with multiple properties. I’ve tested hundreds of materials so far including metals, metal mesh, steamed metal on fabric, paper, PET, Tyvek and various textiles including silk, wool, felt and velvet. Some are fire-proof/water-proof and some are not.


TP: You have been called “London’s new Queen of origami”: do you feel the geometric drive in your work points towards a more technological future, or a traditional past?
I’d like to think both! I try to combine traditional methods with modern techniques. Origami has been used a lot in the past and I’m sure it will into the future. There is an incredible beauty within symmetry and geometry that I think people will always appreciate. 

TP: How would you sum up the design style, in three words?
Geometric, precision-formed, sleek.