Their design – the Fold-a-Boat – was inspired by a paper-folding workshop they attended during their studies at the RCA that focused on generating 3D forms from 2D drawings. They decided to create a flat-pack leisure boat designed for flat-water environments, like canals and lakes; a boat that could be accessible to everyone.
“While studying at the RCA, Arno and I took part in a week-long workshop,” says Frommeld. “This workshop was about taking a 2D drawing, then folding paper to create a 3D object, particularly the process of curved folding where sheets of paper or card were scored with a curved score line and then folded by hand along those lines. We quickly discovered that this low-tech process was applicable to a range of different sheet materials like metal and plastic.”
Motivated and “just for fun” at the time, they created a paper boat. From that point onwards they came up with the idea of trying to find a shape that used curves and could perhaps create a foldable boat-like vessel.
“We went through hundreds of small-scale paper models in order to find an appropriate 2D drawing that then, after assembly, could become a 3D floating boat,” explains Frommeld. “The difficulty here was to find a pattern (and form) for the score lines that was in keeping with aqua dynamics. Issues like correct weight distribution in the assembled vessel, its structural stability and rowing performance also had to be resolved.”
During the design process, Frommeld and Mathies undertook extensive material research in order to find an appropriate material that would allow them to scale up their small-scale, score-lined mock-up to a full-scale prototype boat.
The duo chose a five-millimetre thick high-density polyethylene (HDPE). The material characteristics of HDPE are very versatile, which made it particularly appealing to them in terms of its suitability for the creation of live hinges.
By milling a score line into the material they could take out material at exactly the position they wanted to, allowing the material to bend at exactly the desired positions.
This unique molecular structure of the plastic allowed the hinge to be folded up to 6 000 times before it started to crack – which meant a user could assemble the boat up to 3000 times.
It was the intention of the young designers to create a boat that could be assembled and disassembled in a short amount of time, and one that could be folded into a compact size for transport. And the use of CNC technology to cut the sheet resulted in an estimated low manufacturing cost.
“We ended up with two versions of the boat. The first version starts as a flat sheet (150 x 250 centimetres) and can be assembled in just three minutes by inserting three bolts – one at each fold,” says Frommeld, explaining that this version has particular advantages regarding storage and shipping. “A stack of 200 of these unassembled boats is only one metre high.”
Frommeld sees uses for this version in boat-rental businesses where there are storage restrictions or, impressively, as quick-response boats for disaster zones.
The second Fold-a-Boat version is stored like a folded parcel (150 x 60 x 10 cm) and contains all of the necessary components, such as oars and even cushions.
“With this second version, we’d like to target campers and people who live in urban areas and like to use waterways for leisure activities,” says Frommeld. “The big advantage of this version of the Fold-a-Boat is the fact that it fits inside a station wagon or estate car. When not in use, the boat can be stored under your sofa in your city flat.”
This second, more complex and difficult version was revealed at the RCA summer show this year as part of the pair’s graduation portfolio.
The boat is still at prototyping stage, however, as Frommeld and Mathies are developing both versions for market, hopefully the sight of Fold-a-Boats on the water is not too far off the horizon.