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The value of collaboration

Awnings & Canopies, Management | March 1, 2015 | By:

Turning today’s students into tomorrow’s engaged
and educated industry professionals.

While textile students are the future designers and manufacturers for the textile industry, students in areas such as architecture and product and graphic design are our future textile specifiers. Multi-disciplinary design has become a buzzword in education, but unless students are convinced this can help them in their future careers they simply will not engage. In ThinkTank:Lightness, an undergraduate module that I teach at Ontario (Canada) College of Art and Design University (OCAD U), I try to find ways to address this.

The ThinkTank:Lightness module in the winter semester gives students the option of selecting from a number of different themes relating to sustainability. In theory, it could be peopled by textile and environmental design students. In practice, there are a few environmental design students, but most are from graphic design, illustration and advertising, and they often arrive in the classroom primarily for reasons of scheduling. The challenge is to find ways of employing their primary interests and skills in the digital, while introducing them to the material in the form of advanced, sustainable and technical textiles.

An active education

In the first section of the course, students engage with the theme of lightness using an approach familiar to them: using research skills, sketching, drawing and photography. Using a biomimicry approach, they extract good design from nature, in this instance investigating feathers. Looking at the structure, type and function of feathers, students see design lessons on creating structures that are light in weight but high in strength. Feathers also provide ideas on novel solutions to climate control and ergonomics.

A visit to the Royal Ontario Museum’s (ROM) Gallery of Birds with curator Mark Peck’s expertise gives students a greater understanding of the diversity of feathers in their structure and function, further reinforced by work in class and individual research. Scanning electron microscope (SEM) photography, in particular, provides detailed visual information on the structure and movement of feathers. The importance of highly detailed images to the development of textiles cannot be overstated: Would Speedo’s Fastskin have been possible without the ability of photography to show the denticles of the shark skin, when to the naked eye the surface looks smooth?

The digital platform is the focus for students in graphic design, illustration and advertising, so getting them to work with physical materials is important—and often outside their comfort zone. In the second portion of the course, they explore paper structures, folding, pleating and crumpling. Students consider the qualities that different weights and properties of paper bring to each of the exercises before drawing, sketching and scaling up the results. Then the real work begins—introducing them to architecture and architectural membranes in a way that’s relevant to their core disciplines.

The main project varies slightly each year; this year students were asked to create a solar shade design for a condominium in Toronto. Kirkor Architects and Planners, also in Toronto, joined as industry partners, and students had the option of working in teams on one of two buildings: TIFF Bell Lightbox or World on Yonge. The brief included concept and design development that could bring in a graphic or advertising component, rationale, material specification and a model of the final design.

David Butterworth, a partner with Kirkor Architects, introduced the students to the condominiums they could work with, and Bruce Wright, AIA (former editor of Fabric Architecture), provided an inspirational presentation on new developments in fabrics and graphics for solar shades in architecture. An additional opportunity for directing the graphic design element came from a presentation by Fatal Light Awareness Program (FLAP), an organization established to highlight the problem of migrating birds flying into buildings, attracted by the reflection or light emitted by glass. It’s a particular issue with condominiums, and introducing a graphic element at tree level and below has been shown to help prevent bird fatalities.

TIFF Bell Lightbox

TIFF Bell Lightbox hits the world news in September each year as the home to the Toronto International Film Festival, where filmmakers and film stars from Hollywood to Bangalore fly in to showcase their latest movies. The remainder of the year the building is a state-of-the-art movie theater with exhibition venue, restaurants, a bar, a retail store and condominiums in the high-rise towering above. For graphic arts students, it offered a rare opportunity to apply their skills to one of the city’s most iconic buildings. The brief forced them to look beyond an imaginative visual concept to consideration of how it would be realized, what materials they would use, and how it would address the issues of sustainability and provide solar shade.

Each group chose a group name to brand itself. S.T.A.A.R. used the first letter in each of the student’s names: Sabrina Geraats, Tatiana Rocha Nozaki, Alex Renee Milani, Adrian Mizal and Regina Drummond. This group decided to focus on the lower lightbox portion of the building, which is home to the cinemas and retail. In their research, they discovered that the initial inspiration for the building came from the Casa Malaparte, a building precariously perched at the edge of a cliff on the island of Capri, Italy. Applying the Italian building aesthetics with lessons from origami earlier in the course, the group focused on a dynamic structure using polycarbonate that could expand and contract in response to changing light and diffuse glare from artificial light to protect migrating birds.

A second group branded itself as Solar Moons, including students Martin Angeles, Christian Boghossian, Jean Frederick Charles Demers and Shadman Shababa. The group decided to provide a concept that would combine function and protection while contributing to the “spirit” of the building. The final plan incorporated two designs, one for the lower portion and another for the condominium. For the lower portion, the team proposed a dynamic cube system using Vectran® fabric and a Crestron automated control system that could rotate to provide changing graphics, solar shade and deter bird collision. The highrise part of the plan utilized a pixelated graphic that could be derived from the latest movie showing, for which they specified printing onto SuperVue® film to act as a solar shade.

The World on Yonge

The World on Yonge is a mixed-use retail, office and residential condominium located on Yonge Street, one of the longest streets in the world; at almost 2,000 kilometers, it stretches from Lake Ontario in downtown Toronto to Lake Simcoe. The group True Spirit (Shermin Khalili and Marzieh Parseh) took the name of the building as their inspiration, wrapping the structure in an eye-catching Earth graphic. Origami was selected as a structure, and a lightweight printable mesh, Screen Nature from Mermet S.A.S., was chosen as the solar protective fabric. Balconies were specified with blue and white UV- and weather-resistant tiles where shade was not needed.

Graphene was the inspiration for the fourth group, gRoup: Zach Monteiro, Kamil Kruk, Ramsay Drover and Constance Yonge. Taking direction from the material was something of an unexpected tactic for students coming from a non-material background. They decided to use graphene for the windows as well as a series of umbrellas to provide shade for residents on the roof area, which functions as a green space between the two towers. Graphene, described as a “miracle material” 300 times stronger than steel with an elasticity of 20 percent on its original state, is also highly conductive and can absorb light; but because the material is so thin it does not block vision. In this proposed application graphene would be used as a solar shade and harness energy from the sun, with the spacing of the hexagon pattern designed to mitigate against bird impact.

Industry potential

Technological advances in textiles, membranes and associated technologies create opportunities and an atmosphere of excitement in both the textile and architectural markets. This is just the starting point, however. Both industries need to ensure that our most creative architects, designers and specifiers are kept informed and involved in these new developments. Student engagement is essential, not only to their professional future as users and specifiers of advanced materials and techniques, but in exploring creative design solutions for the industry.

Marie O’Mahony is professor of materials art and design at the Design Faculty, Ontario College of Art and Design University; visiting professor at University of the Arts, London; and senior editor of Material Futures, Stylus Fashion.

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