When industry and academia collide, design and technology become natural partners.
Both researchers and students had a strong presence at the Techtextil show in Frankfurt, Germany, May 4–7. The work exhibited was in varying stages of development, but as a whole forms an important barometer of the next generation of industry innovators. Exhibitions such as the “Textile Structures for New Building” and the fashion-focused “Innovative Apparel Show” showed the range from technically advanced to more aesthetic and conceptual approaches. Among the exhibitors were research institutes, universities and schools showcasing their work. Having researchers and students on hand to discuss their work offered both wide access and unique opportunity for information exchange, for industry and academia alike.
The competition, sponsored by hosts Messe Frankfurt and the TensiNet Association, invited student entries for innovative ideas for building with textiles and for textile-reinforced materials. Eight projects were selected by a jury, with Werner Sobek, director of the Institute for Lightweight Structures and Conceptual Design (ILEK) at the University of Stuttgart, as academic advisor. Entries were organized in four categories: Macro Architecture, Materials Innovation, Composites and Hybrid Structures, and Micro Architecture.
Submissions generally used one of two distinct approaches. The first was focused on engineering, revolving around identifying a particular problem within a building and offering proposed solutions. “Rolled Wall” by Sascha Hickert and Carina Kisker from the Detmolder Schule fur Architektur und Innenarchitektur won second prize in the Composites and Hybrid Structures category. Responding to the need for climate control and reducing energy use in buildings, the entry proposed a textile formwork system using 3-D knitted spacer fabric for a double-skin concrete wall, with a cavity for thermal insulation. The use of a textile as the outer skin allows this technique to bring an aesthetic quality to what might otherwise have been a pure engineering solution.
The second approach was exemplified by “Chromosonic,” the entry from Judit Eszter Kapati from the Moholy-Nagy University of Art and Design in Budapest, Hungary. The project was awarded first prize in the Material Innovations category. In this proposal for a smart material, Kapati combined heat, sound and visual responsiveness. The intention was to propose a means of visualizing acoustics, with the solution employing engineering and technical skills as well as an artistic vision—an appropriate entry from a student at a university named after the visionary Hungarian artist and Bauhaus educator LászlÓ Moholy-Nagy.
Fashion and function
New to Techtextil was the Innovative Apparel Show, consisting of a static exhibition and a daily series of catwalk events choreographed by Kevin Oakes. Approximately 30 different looks were displayed from four universities and fashion schools: the Frankfurt School of Clothing and Fashion Design, the Lower-Rhine University of Applied Sciences (Department of Textile and Clothing Technology), Lucerne University of Applied Sciences and Zwickau University in Western Saxony.
The exhibition was divided into three themes: High-Tech Fashion, Creative Processing and Functional Materials. Olaf Schmidt, vice president of textiles and textile technologies at Messe Frankfurt, emphasized that it was not their intention to put on a fashion show in the traditional sense. The objective was to highlight the link between Techtextil and Texprocess and explore the processing technologies in the treatment of clothing with technical textiles, nonwovens and other flexible materials.
Theresa Kanz, a student from Zwickau University, produced a sculptural body of work that explored human isolation. She described a sense of alienation that people find in fashion as reflecting “the inner world … where people no longer feel at home.” In contrast to this conceptual work, Hanna Stampfli from Lucerne University of Applied Sciences focused on material exploration. Reflective fabrics were given decorative treatment and used as trims and detailing, almost like a high-tech lace embellishment of the clothing. The process and thinking behind these kinds of creative explorations are where the real interest lies, particularly in looking at ways to engage the fashion industry to consider using advanced and technical textiles for their own purposes. A series of videos was made to accompany the exhibition, available online at http://techtextil.messefrankfurt.com.
There was a combination of new work and work in development exhibited at the show. Germany-based Hohenstein Institute showed a number of new developments, including a 3-D Head Shape Study survey. Researchers spent about two years measuring the heads of 6,000 adults and children. More than 40 clearly defined measuring points were used to help analyze circumference, width and length and develop a new sizing chart specifically for the head. Demonstrating the importance of the research to the industry, Simone Morlock, project director, commented: “Since people only wear head protection systems consistently if they are comfortable, getting the best fit is very important.”
The German Institute for special textiles and flexible materials TITV Griez and the Spanish Tecnologias Avanzadas Inspiralia SL showed a heatable carpet called “Radcarpet.” It has been developed over a two-year period and involves six companies, attracting European Commission funding under its FP7 program (the EU’s Seventh Framework Programme for Research). The carpet uses conductive textiles and temperature sensors to provide maximum heat transmission with minimum loss and lower energy use, with the intention of reducing energy use in a building over its lifetime. Partners on the project include R.STAT, the French fiber manufacturer, and MaxiTex, a German nonwoven company, with Switzerland-based TISCA TIARA producing the final carpet.
Smart Textiles, part of the Swedish School of Textiles, showcased a combination of further refinements in previously exhibited work as well as new developments. Recent Ph.D. graduate Barbara Jansen showed Re:Light, exploring the possibility for incorporating light-generated color in textiles to create a dynamic and responsive system. Woven textiles and braiding were shown to demonstrate the importance of structure on the final product. Overall, the presentations displayed a rich body of work with a lot of scope for further development, which we hope to see more of at future industry trade shows.
Industry engagement and European Union support are essential components in the health of the European research institutes and academic research departments. Although funding is important, the knowledge and willingness to collaborate across disciplines is equally so. With the launch of President Obama’s $500 million investment in advanced textile manufacturing through new innovation institutes, we’ll hope to see more explorations of this type in the Americas as well.
Marie O’Mahony is Professor of Materials Art + Design at the Design Faculty, Ontario College of Art + Design University, and is also visiting professor at University of the Arts, London.