Inflatable origami greenhouses – self sufficient living in Jaipur

Meat consumption globally is ever increasing, especially in countries which are experiencing rapid increases in wealth such as India. Despite its population consisting of 337 million vegetarians, 71% of people living in India have a meat based diet. The amount of land required to produce meat is extremely more than the amount required to produce vegetarian food products. If crops are grown in greenhouses they require even less space, as the growing seasons can be extended and environmental factors controlled. This highlights how switching to a greenhouse-grown plant based diet has massive spatial advantages and is an efficient use of land.

There is also a huge incentive from the Indian government to encourage those who work in agriculture to use greenhouses rather than open land to grow their crops to increase reliability of harvest and income. However, the most popular greenhouse covering material in India is polyethylene sheeting, which needs replacing annually. This adds to the enormous amount of plastic waste which ends up in India’s open environment (85% of all plastic waste).

The site is located on the outskirts on Jaipur, Rajasthan, and is situated in existing agricultural land, adjacent to two poly tunnel greenhouses. The craft and paper manufacturing area of Sanganer sits just East of the site, which houses several paper production facilities using local raw materials like hemp and bamboo.

When researching alternatives to polyethylene sheeting, paper was investigated as a cladding material – it is cheap, lightweight, translucent and can be locally manufactured using raw materials such as bamboo fibers to increase its strength. To make the paper more weather-resistant, I sourced shellac resin flakes (a natural resin found on trees in India) and mixed a coating to apply to the paper.

Shellac coating mix process
Shellac coating on bamboo paper

To test the moisture resistance of the shellac coating, water is poured into a pool on the paper and left to soak. The water is not able to penetrate the surface of the paper and the underside of the paper is completely dry. Water runs off the paper without soaking through the sheet.

The coating also bonds to the fibers in the paper which increases its transparency. This is beneficial in the application of a greenhouse covering.

Inflatable origami air beams

Following from the inflatable origami studies for Brief 1 (see previous post), the paper origami modules are combined to create inflated beams for the greenhouse. The video below shows an initial study of the inflation sequence of the beams.

The air beams are modeled up digitally to test their form variations. The bottom right form allows for an increase in depth, creating more varied spaces beneath the beams and more opportunities for longer beam spans.

To test the air beams at a larger scale, I constructed a 1.8m wide model. I then used this to analyse its structural stability, and identify any weaker points in the beam.

The origami beam will arrive to the site pre-folded where it is then inflated, increasing ease of transportation.

Origami air beam unfolding sequence
Origami air beam not inflated

Infill beams and cladding system

The infill beams sit within the main air beams to provide a structure for the facade. These infill beams are constructed using the same method as the larger beams and provide support for the reactive facade system.

Passive facade

Origami hinge balloons (developed during Brief 1) are treated with a black coating and tightly sealed. The black coating allows the balloons to absorb more heat, rapidly expanding the air within the balloon when they are exposed to intense heat from the sun. This test was carried out using the same temperatures in Jaipur during summer months.

Time lapse of solar balloon replication, the variation of heat determining the rate of expansion

The solar balloon is attached to a fin, and acts as a hinge. This will be used as a passive way to open and close the greenhouse facade to control intense over-heating in summer and ventilation.

Coated paper facade fins which open when the solar balloons are heated by the intense Jaipur sun. This ventilates and cools the greenhouse down in extreme weather conditions.

Facade opening sequence

Community farming

The greenhouses will be shared by multiple families and will provide each family member with enough food to be self-sufficient. Communal farming is becoming more common in India – growing crops using the same resources and centralising power supplies to increase efficiency. In addition to this, many rural villages in India are forced to be self-sufficient due to a lack of connection to resources. My project will aim to combine these characteristics to create a communal self-sufficient greenhouse village in South Jaipur.

Each greenhouse will have a series of connected homes which open into the greenhouse. These will be constructed from rammed earth – the thermal mass of this material will help to prevent overheating during the summer in Jaipur’s arid climate, whilst retaining heat during winter months. The geometries of these homes relate to the form of the greenhouse, and are constructed from single curvature faces.

Each individual requires 40m2 of greenhouse space to grow enough food to maintain a self -sufficient diet. The above matrix displays the possible greenhouse typologies based on 2 person, 3 person and 4 person homes.

2 person home example

Home typologies
Existing agriculture land on site

Radiation study, Jaipur

Inflatable origami inspired by Mimosa Pudica, the ‘folding plant’

The study of inflatable origami derived from the investigation of the Mimosa Pudica plant, which closes its leaflets when disturbed. The leaves fold inward and droop when touched or shaken, defending themselves from harm, and re-open a few minutes later. When the leaves are folded it makes the plant appear smaller, whilst simultaneously exposing sharp spikes on its stem.

Mimosa Pudica structure
Stimuli which causes Mimosa Pudica leaflets to fold
Change of turgor pressure within cells to cause leaflets to close

The plant folds its leaves as a result of a small change of turgor pressure in the plant cells which regulates the significant movement of the leaflets. In order to investigate this pressure change through modelling, two balloons are used and positioned at the base of the fins, mimicking the pressure change of the Mimosa Pudica. The model displays how a small increase of pressure, in this instance air, can create a more significant movement, acting as a hinge.

To control the angles of the tilt, a balloon has been made from paper using a tailored origami template which tilt the fins forward and inwards, replicating that of the Mimosa Pudica leaf movement. The origami balloon is comprised of two hinges, each one tilting in a different direction. When inflated, the first hinge expands, tilting the connecting fin forwards. When more air is blown into the balloon, the second hinge is inflated, tilting the fin inwards.

Origami balloon inflation sequence

As shown above, the origami balloons can control the desired angles of the tilts. When more air is blown into the balloons, it expands and the origami unfolds to reveal another lock position.

Following from the previous study, a series of balloons are created which combine the hinge movement with a rotational movement; the rotation origami balloon twists when inflated. To investigate the potential lock motions of each variant, the hinge and rotation balloons are combined in angles and stacks to provide alternative movement sequences. Below displays a matrix table, showing the hinge:rotation variables and their outputs.

Origami balloon matrix

Each origami balloon type provides an alternative folding sequence with either 1, 2 or 3 locking positions. These can then be manipulated as required, combining multiple balloons or re-dimensioning to suit their design intent.

One of the two principle origami balloon types is the hinge. When inflated, the balloon has the ability to tilt associated planes, creating a significant movement from a small inflation. The diagrams below show the digital simulation of the
movement, created in Grasshopper. Hinges can be combined with rotation origami balloons and other hinge balloons to create a sequence of tilting, rotational movements.

The second principle origami balloon types is the rotation. When inflated, the balloon has the ability to rotate, which can subsequently rotate any associated planes.

Rotation origami balloon

In order to create the grasshopper simulation, each origami balloon must be evaluated to extract each point of the shape. Once the points have been determined, they are allocated a series of values which determine the folding motion of the origami. The script must be programmed to prompt specific points to fold into one another.

Grasshopper hingepoints

Each origami model has a unique template which determines the angles of rotation and tilt. The templates are a combination of mountain and valley folds, each one carefully designed to ensure that when inflated, the balloon expands in the desired motion.

Origami templates

The origami system is then translated into a field array to study how the balloons can operate simultaneously.


To create the array below, a sequence of fins have been assigned to each balloon in over-lapping arrangement which can be used to parametrically open and close the panelised surface.

The next array acts similarly to a shutter system, displaying how a series of fins can be associated to one another to create a sequence of movements. The more inflated the balloon, the more vertically the associated fin will be, pulling each connecting fin towards it and thus retracting the series of panels.

Following from this, examples of the origami balloon field array mapped to a shape are studied, providing an insight as to how the array could be applied to an object. In the field map below, the panels are more open towards the top of the shape and are closed at the sides. In practice, this could be a result of the balloons inflating to further locking positions towards the top of the structure as a result of more exposure to sunlight /air flow which could increase the expansion of the origami balloon.

Origami balloon field mapped to shape

The below panelised field map displays the sequence of an interlocking array. The surface is more closed where the uninflated origami balloons are located. The interlocking sequence becomes more open once the origami balloons have inflated further, showing how the balloons can be manipulated to determine the transparency of a plane.

Origami balloon field mapped to surface

The origami balloon studies thus far have focused on individual balloons with separate associated end-effectors. To develop the scope of the origami balloons, a series of balloons connected by tubes has been constructed. Each origami balloon in the sequence shares the same air input system, and as a result develops a sequence of movements.

Physical origami balloon linkage model
Digital origami balloon linkage model

The creation of origami models lead to the study of paper as a material, and its position within the environment. Research into the paper manufacturing industry uncovered how masses of water and deforestation takes place as a result of paper manufacturing, with 14% of global deforestation solely for paper production. This prompted the investigation of recycled paper.

Paper industry statistics

The process I undertook to make the recycled paper required shredding old, disused paper found around the studio and recycling bins. The shredded paper is then mixed with water and blended to break down the fibers, converting the material into a pulp. The pulp is then laid onto a frame, the dimensions of which determine the sheet size. The pulp is removed from the frame, sponged and dried to create a new usable paper sheet.

Recycled paper making process
Paper is coated with wax to seal
Matrix of paper sheets, with varied recycled paper compositions and weights

Oil can be used to coat the sheet which increases the transparency of the paper. Once the oil is completely dried, the paper remains transparent. Image above shows the same two sheets of hand-made recycled paper, with the one on the right coated in oil.