As part of Bohlin Cywinski Jackson's annual Talk20 event, Ming presented Paperwork, a lecture describing the potential and promise inherent in the medium of paper. You can watch a video here, and excerpts follow below:
Paper is my medium, and I use it as much now that I am an architect as when I was small, using paper to make origami and draw houses in preschool. One could say that architects make buildings, but actually architects make drawings of buildings on paper. Lots and lots of paper. Even when so much of what we do lives in the computer, the paper copy of our work, the drawing set, still has tremendous value.
Paper, as a real and tangible object, has value to me, both in my work as an architect, and in my life in general. Like everyone in this room, my life as a maker began on paper. I’ve made thousands of things in my life, but I keep coming back to paper. It is a limited material, but its constraints are somehow freeing. You are provoked to push its boundaries, and its delights and surprises are all the better for its limitations. It is thin and easily torn, but that makes for intricate and easy papercuts. It is pliable and weak, but that makes for clean and smooth folds. Paper is flat, yes, but its physical limitations allow it to pop out, pop up, and fold into the third dimension.
But now I’m entranced by even simpler folds. With a few careful cuts and folds, the mundane opening of a card can be something much more interesting. Like architecture, paper work relies on the presence of light to define it...and a light grants a simple and powerful dichotomy to the fold: light on one side of the crease, and shadow on the other. Paper behaves like no other material. Paper is at once rigid and soft, allowing it to curl without breaking and create swoops and swirls according to its specific properties.
And even a single sheet of paper has depth. Through marks or the deformation of the material itself, the depth of a single sheet can be revealed. Embossing, raising the surface, and debossing, depressing the surface, allow shadow and light to reside on what was once a smooth and uninterrupted plane.
There is an intellectual and a physical satisfaction that I get from working with paper, but more than all of this, there is a sense of play inherent in the material, of easy experimentation, and, simply, of possibility.