Ask Drachen Foundation

For the past 20 years, the Drachen Foundation has served as a great resource for the kiting community when it comes to the design and construction methods of kites. In particular, Scott Skinner's extensive knowledge of kite designs from all around the world proves handy when people such as Aki Ishida write to the Drachen Foundation with conundrums such as how to design a kinetic sculpture inspired by Japanese Kites.

Dear Drachen Foundation:

I am a Japanese architect, designer and a professor of architecture at Virginia Tech.

I was commissioned to create a temporary 'lantern' enclosure to be used during an award ceremony for the local American Institute of Architects in a farmer's market building with a timber frame roof. I am designing the enclosure from Japanese-inspired rice paper and bamboo kites. The intent is to have a field of these kites provide an overhead cloud-like ceiling that responds to the wind. During the ceremony and the dinner event, we do not want these kites to be visually or acoustically distracting. When we mocked it up in June, I was mortified that the kites which were strung on fishing lines moved over 3 feet up/down and sideways and got tangled up!

We quickly made some modifications to make them more stable - 1. In place of lightweight fishing lines, used a metal chain link, which kept the kites from flying up and down, 2. Weighed down the bottom of each rectangular kite with an additional strip of bamboo, which kept the individual kites from doing somersaults, and 3. cut an opening in the rice paper so that it does not catch the wind and move as much.

Here is a mockup: 

mockup of kite designs
I think from your experience, you may be able to point some things that will keep the kites even more stable, and the cut opening in the paper more attractive while minimizing additional material purchases. For example, what happens if we attach lead weights on each kite other than the chain? Is there a good geometric shape for the cut opening in  the rice paper (oval, trapezoid)? Rather than a rectangular (15" x 24") kites, is there a better shape to achieve what we want - for example a trapezoid?

Aki Ishida

Dear Aki:

The easiest way to reduce movement is to have two lines to the top two corners of the lead kite (as well as a third from the bottom or lower-center).  If you have time, I would be tempted to run three lines through the kites in a similar fashion to a Chinese or Japanese centipede kite,  connecting the top two corners and center (where the cross-spars cross) so that the line of kites stays in the orientation that it is placed. 

Here is a sketch: 

Scott's Sketch of his Solution

This would eliminate the need for the upper chain, though it is quite a lot of work to attach each successive kite at the same distance from the previous.  The three lines in front and behind each row of kites can be adjusted to the attachment points to change the orientation of the line.  I'd suggest 20lb test kite line (dacron) for these train lines between kites. Don't think that because the kites are light they are unstable or likely to tangle. The most important thing you can do is to string them consistently from front to back and then anchor them in a specific attitude. They may move slightly, but since you have tension from front to back through each line, movement will be minimal.

I love the idea of many, many multiples of these "kites" and look forward to seeing the end result.  Consider small changes in center openings to make each line slightly different.

Best of luck,

Scott's advice allowed Aki to make tweaks to her design and hang the installation for the awards ceremony. The installation was a huge hit. See more of the beautiful finished kite lanterns here:

Installed kite lanterns