ArchiTextiles lab on the move
August 16, 2011

When one door closes another door opens. That’s true of the research project, Architectural Applications of Electronic Textiles, which embarks on a new phase in its development.

A five-year project funded through ACOA’s Atlantic Innovation Fund, Architectural Applications of Electronic Textiles—Architextiles Lab for short and @Lab for even shorter—was established in 2008 and is at the end of its funding. Now, with a grant from the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada (SSHRC) in hand, @Lab is moving from its location at NSCAD University’s Port Campus to the Granville campus.

Specifically, it will move to the storefront at 1883 Granville Street, historically designated for its rare and early cast-iron façade. The space has an interesting history, starting as Coombs Old English Shoe Store in 1860 and more recently as the bar J.J. Rossy’s.

“Our hope that by moving here, our equipment will be more widely used,” says Robin Muller, NSCAD University professor and the principal co-investigator of @Lab – a job she shares with Sarah Bonnemaison, associate professor with Dalhousie University’s Faculty of Architecture and Planning. “We’ll be closer to the textiles department, which is a good thing.”

Inside, the space is rather grand, with stately Corinthian columns and elaborate crown mouldings. Renovations will open up the space to make it usable for a research team of about 10 people, create a room to be used for seminars (the bar’s former dance floor) and close off doors that made the area something of a thoroughfare. @Lab’s equipment is moving into the space, including machines for 3D printing and laser cutting. As well, a jacquard loom from the textiles department is being relocated; the loom is so specialized that a specialist from Norway is arriving to oversee the process.

The attractive storefront next door to the Anna Leonowens Gallery will be used to display special projects by NSCAD students and “become more of a showcase for the university,” says Prof. Muller.

As @Lab relocates, Prof. Muller reflects that the past five years resulted in a fruitful collaboration between experts in disciplines that don’t often get together. The entire interdisciplinary team included architects, artists, craftspeople, experts in electronics and engineers.

“I think the only way to do something truly innovative is to collaborate with someone else,” says Prof. Muller, who says the research group met weekly to share ideas and discuss progress, a sometimes unwieldy process that nevertheless worked.  “It required being flexible and it seemed that sometimes the people with the least experience in a given area had the best suggestions, because they arrived without preconceptions.”

The idea behind @Lab is to develop “smart” textiles to create architectural spaces and objects that would be collapsible and would somehow respond to the people using them. Examples include a massage tent that changed color according to body temperature, a set that responded to the movements of the dancer on stage, and a warming hut for skaters created for the 2011 Canada Winter Games. One of @Lab’s most recent projects was a reactive ceiling system in an auditorium at the School of Architecture. Comprised of tiles with laser-cut wood on one side, fabric on the other, the ceiling is designed to modify the acoustic qualities of the space, to absorb or amplify sound depending on how the auditorium is being used.

“It’s been a life-altering experience,” says Prof. Muller. “We’ve been thinking visually, of course, also thinking of touch, sound and motion.”

Members of the @lab team included Robin Muller and Anke Fox with NSCAD University’s textiles department; Sarah Bonnemaison, Greg Sims, Jacob JeBailey, Adam Read and Melissa Schwegmann with Dalhousie’s School of Architecture; in electronics, Stephen Kelly and Shane Yates; and consulting by Peter Gregson, Dalhousie’s Faculty of Engineering.  Many of them will be continuing to work on the SSHRC  project, called E-Motion Studies in the age of Responsive Environments, a three-year research and creation project in the field of responsive environments.

LINK: ArchiTextiles lab

 massage240  curtain240
The massage enclosure was designed to provide athletes with privacy while getting massages.  The Mondrian-styled curtain emits light in the darkness.