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Finishing Adds Structure to Paper Architecture at Geomancy

by Kym Conis

The scene is set in 17th-century Persia and its capital city of Isfahan – at the time, one of the largest cities in the world. Flourishing under the Safavid Empire, Isfahan was famous for its Islamic architecture, grand palaces, exquisite mosques, beautiful boulevards, wondrous bridges and world-renowned artistries. During this time of extreme growth within a complex society, Isfahan became the crossroads of international trade and diplomacy, drawing curious visitors from far and wide.

Amongst this thriving new political center were more than 500 palaces, where Persian kings received European ambassadors and other important dignitaries to the royal court. One such palace – the Hall of Stables – was situated in the eastern part of the royal precinct near the royal square along a narrow garden surrounded with tall plane trees. This glorious architectural structure with walls adorned in 18K gold and mirrored mosaic designs became the subject of a three-dimensional pop-up card created by California-based card company Geomancy.

Located in Studio City, CA, Geomancy, which in Latin means "the sacred geometry of architecture," is a privately owned company specializing in two-dimensional paper or genuine wood-cut cards, three-dimensional pop-up cards, paper-relief cards and limited edition books. Captivated by the beauty of art and architecture, Hamid Zadeh (Geomancy owner, author and designer) bases each of his company’s card designs upon the careful examination and study of related historical, archeological and artistic materials from all over the world. Geomancy prides itself on being a master of paper architecture, defined as the art of creating an object from a single sheet of paper based on geometric patterns and rules by various cuts, scores and folds, which literally means converting a two-dimensional surface into a three-dimensional form without engagement of other materials.

The Hall of Stables architectural card is a masterful example of intricate laser cutting, foil stamping and multi-level embossing. From the vast amount of research that went into the accurate recreation of the palace to the flawless design and execution of the awe-inspiring card, the vision that unfolds tells a story of ancient Persia and paints a visual image impossible to forget.

Recreating history

The intricate pop-up card is part of a six-volume, limited edition series of books on Isfahan, Persia, around the 1630s. Researched, written, designed and produced by Zadeh and his team at Geomancy, the commemorative book series, still in progress, will cover the Hall of Stables, along with 35 other palaces and historical public structures.

The book series is the culmination of paper reliefs, hundreds of pages of text, illustrations, objects on paper and fabric from various museums around the world. "After numerous visits to historical landmarks and archeological sites, the difficulty of imagining how they looked before their destruction resulted in the establishment of Geomancy," stated Zadeh. "These masterpieces of history are recreated to obtain a better visualization and understanding of every piece of work and the civilizations that produced them."

The recreation of the Hall of Stables was the result of three years of research and four months in production. "I restored this forgotten palace from oblivion," said Zadeh. "As a paper architect, I have the privilege to connect with the audience momentarily and convey my cultural messages visually, regardless of their locations, with the help of three-dimensional paper formats like embossing or pop-up. They surprise and entertain the curiosity of the audiences faster than other ordinary ways of communication, and the images stay with them much longer."

According to the text that accompanies the architecture card in the book, the Hall of Stables was a principal site for the coronation of the Persian king and the reception area for foreign ambassadors and royal council meetings. Able to accommodate up to 500 people, the palace also was used for the celebration of the passage of the Persian New Year (spring equinox).

In the chronicles of European travelers, it was mentioned that during receptions on each long side of the palace’s garden were nine horses adorned with solid gold and precious stones, which stood waiting for the pleasure of the king. This explains the origin of the palace’s name.

"Receptions were held in the front portico. The ceiling was covered with colored mirrored panels and was supported with four sculpted stone base columns, each in the form of a massive vase. They were topped with decorated wooden columns adorned with gold, silver and mirrored pieces with a total height of 20 feet," said Zadeh. "In the midst of the portico, right in front of the elevated alcove and imperial throne, was a large marble water basin (18x15') with a fountain encircled with jets of water. Above was a crystal candelabrum, a present from Venice to the Shah."

The Hall of Stables was created from the detailed documented travel logs of high-ranking European officials who had traveled to Persia during the 17th century, including a primitive photograph, which was found in the archives prior to the destruction of the palace in 1900, and Zadeh’s drawings. As an independent researcher, Zadeh’s projects initiate with his drawings, research, travel to the sites and then completion of the project. The focus of his studies includes Islamic art, India, Italy, Persia and the United States.

"Occasionally, I must consult with an archeologist or historian about the authenticity of recorded documents or materials used," said Zadeh. He stressed the importance of providing accurate detail in his depictions, even if the project takes longer to complete. "My books and their contents are studied by students and scholars. They trust my work, so I need to make sure the final product is as accurate as possible," said Zadeh.

Constructing the palace

The preliminary step in the design process entailed a hand drawing from the principle layer of the structure. Then, layer by layer, the building elements were added. Next, the pattern was calculated to 1/1000 of an inch, which is what makes the various elements fold and join to each other, exactly like the assembly of a car on a production line.

The card is a combination of six attached layers superimposed to each other. The second layer was foil stamped in two passes – the first with double-etched copper dies in highly reflective silver foil from Crown Roll Leaf to replicate the mirrored mosaic patterns on the interior walls, and the second in copper foil from Great Western Foil to create the aged, rich look of the 18K gilded wall foliage. All dies were supplied by Metal Magic, and all foil stamping was done on a Kluge press.

The rich velvet curtains were recreated with Gemund Kaschmir red fabric cloth cover, and then blind embossed with a brass multi-level die. The flower pattern was created by laser engraving on top of the fabric. In the palace, it was written that the curtains, lined with chintz, were made from material gifted by the King of India. The curtains hung throughout the palace with coordinating silk ropes, which modulated the sun during the daylight hours.

The outside card cover, made of 80lb royal blue Oxford cover from Nina Paper, was combination foil stamped and embossed with a ‘Persianized’ Sagittarius figure in copper foil. This symbol was chosen for the front cover because it is the historic emblem of the capital city and is still visible above the entrance to the ancient bazaar today. It also is believed that the construction of the capital initiated in late November or early December – the related months to this symbol. The royal blue color was selected for the cover because it has represented the color of the Persian monarchy throughout history.

In total, 8,890 delicate poly line laser cuts were cut into the carefully selected stock. Geomancy utilized CO2 machines to produce the laser cutting. This involves firing a laser, which cuts by melting, burning or vaporizing the material. Extremely fine levels of cutting detail can be achieved on a wide variety of materials.

In the field of paper architecture, paper selection is the most important part of the project. "When designing, the overall size of the piece and weight of the paper must be considered to coordinate with the project; otherwise, the card will not pop open properly and hold the structure together in an open position," Zadeh explained. "If the stock is too heavy, the rigidity will cause resistance to the fold."

Completion of the initial pattern may take hours or days. Next, the cutting and folding processes take place. Numerous modifications and experimentation ensue until the construction is completely sound and can be opened and closed again and again.

Nearly 500 architectural pop-up cards have been produced and stand ready for distribution in the limited-edition book series titled "The Splendor of Royal Isfahan, a Three-Dimensional Commemorative," slated for release in 2015.

Unfolding a vision in time

The ability to restore a 17th-century palace destroyed in 1900 is more than a talent or a craft – it’s a true passion. To be able to create a vision in time that puts an image to the written word is an artistry that leaves an indelible impression, which is exactly the effect that the House of Stables had on the judges of the FSEA’s 21st Annual Gold Leaf Awards Competition.

Judged on creativity, execution and level of difficulty, Geomancy was awarded a Gold Leaf Award in the category of Best Use of Laser Cutting with Foil Stamping and/or Embossing. Numerous other industry awards presented to Geomancy over the years reaffirm the powerful impact that the pop-up restorations have on the eyes of the beholder – a fantastical wonderment to unfold.