Engaging body-space relationship: making of an interactive interior skin

A prototype of To Feel the Space. Photo courtesy of Kyle Overton

Citation: Wu, J. (2016). Engaging body-spacer relationship: Making of an interactive interior skin, IDEC Exchange: A Forum for Interior Design Education, Fall 2016

Link to PDF

There is an increasing interest in interior design theory that focuses on understanding interior spaces as both the specifics of objects and environments within the interior and the subjects who experience them through their bodily presence. If a theory of interiority cannot simply be characterized by reference to qualities such as walls, ceilings and floors in a Cartesian space and by the objects and finishing contained in it, and we wish to engage physical and psychological body-space relationships as well, then what are some new spatial expressions that can affect our perception of space? What is our perception of a space? What does it mean to feel a space? According to Gestalt psychology, when we enter an interior space, what is first and immediately perceived is neither the subjective sensation nor shapes, colors, or objects, but rather, atmosphere. German philosopher, Gernot Böhme, in his seminal work, Atmosphere as The Fundamental Concept of a New Aesthetics, articulated the interrelationship between the subjects and objects in atmospheric space. According to Böhme, atmospheres are neither something object nor something subject. Instead, atmospheres are both object-like, articulating their presence through qualities, and at the same time subject-like, presenting a bodily state of being of subjects in space.

Human skin is the interface between the body and world: it is our outermost organ that protects our physical bodies, it is sensuous to touch and constantly gives us information about our surroundings. In design history the concept of ‘skin’ has been used as a site for rich metaphors referring to the clothing that wraps around the body or the building walls that enclose and protect our body. In fact, ‘second skin’ is often used as a metaphor for clothing or fashion while ‘third skin’ is often used as a metaphor for architectural cladding and surface interiority. An architectural skin, referred to generically as the boundary between indoor and outdoor, has to negotiate with both exterior and interior presences. In contrast, interior skin, mediated by architectural skin, can be understood as a series of layers demarcating various interior enclosures: inside and outside demarcation is erased and dichotomy becomes relevant only to the presence of the body.

Directly borrowing from the metaphor of human skin, this art installation To Feel the Space, is a full scale interactive interior skin that is produced by using folded plastic corrugation boards and digital technologies. It attempts to explore the potential object-like and subject-like expression of interior atmosphere by focusing on the ephemeral status between subject and object and capturing the fleeting moments of body-space experience. Situated within a large public space, for example, an exhibition hall, the form of the interior skin, digitally fabricated from folded plates is not the result of the design generated from a specific program, but the result of parameterizing the dome-like structure to the bodily dimensions and movement. The interior skin, as the object in space, actively engages with the subjects as they walk into the exhibition space. Digital cameras capture the colors palettes from the clothing people wear in space and add the live color information to a database to be live project-mapped onto the interior skin. As the people move closer to and within the interior skin, the additional digital cameras will capture people’s movements in space and allow for the interactive plays between the bodies and the space. When people move outside of the interior skin and the exhibition hall, they will leave their color information behind in the space and therefore the space is present with the traces of bodies even if the bodies are absent in space. As a result, the atmosphere is neither objective nor subjective, but infused with the fleeting interplay between the object and the subject that is felt through the body and met with the eyes.

Acknowledgement: This project is supported by New Frontier of Creativity and Scholarship and Center of Arts and Humanities Institute Fellowship, Indiana University. The author would like to thank Kyle Overton for working on aspects of the interactive technology.

Zushiki light art: form finding and paper making through paper folding


Wu, J. 2016. Zushiki light art: form finding and making through paper folding. In ACM SIGGRAPH 2016 Emerging Technologies (SIGGRAPH ’16). ACM, New York, NY, USA

Paper folding allows for complex and innovative structures formed with simple and low cost tools at the point of assembly. From simple pieces of paper, folded designs can be easily deployed into a three-dimensional volume and can be flattened to a two-dimensional shape for ease of shipping and storage. The goal of this workshop is to demonstrate practical means of using paper folding, the art of origami, in product design in order to seek innovative ways of form finding and making.

Zushiki, or図式, is a Japanese word for plan, scheme, pattern and design. Zushiki Light Art is inspired by modular origami in which multiple sheets of paper are used to create a larger and more complex design.  These designs are not possible using single-piece origami techniques. Historically, modular origami first appeared in a Japanese book published in 1743 called Ranma Zushiki. The book shows a modular origami cube called tamatebako, or玉手箱, translated as “magic treasure chest.”

Three unique light art design, Gokakukei, Sakuru, and Sankakei, will be available for participant to make at Studio in SIGGRAPH. Predesign crease patterns will be sent to a laser cutter to be perforated and cut.  These laser-cut pieces will be then hand folded connected by small plastic snap buttons and small metal rings. The number of pieces required for each light will be varied from four pieces to twelve pieces. A small battery-powered LED will be used to illuminate each folded design.

Zushiki Light Art is designed using super light-weight, natural material coupled with low impact digital fabrication and making techniques. Each of the Zushiki Light Art presents a minimal carbon footprint and ecological impact. It invites the ephemeral interplay between the light and shadow throughout the night, providing a soft ambience that highlights the intricacy and the mathematical complexity of each piece.

Boreas: Flat-foldable Parametric Design


Wu, J. (2016). Boreas: Flat-foldable Parametric Design. Proceedings of the Interior Design Educators Council Annual Meeting, Portland, Oregon

Origami has inspired many designers and engineers to come up with novel ways to fabricate, assemble, store and morph objects and structures that are safe, efficient and energy saving from collapsible medical stents for hearts to airbags for cars. However, coming up with flat foldable and collapsible volumetric design of any arbitrary shape is continuing to be a great challenge to designers. Boreas project attempts to understand how to combine origami principles and parametric design process in form-finding, fabricating and assembling collapsible volume in a case study of folded light art.

The seed for the form genesis of Boreas is an origami Waterbomb module, a flat-foldable origami tessellation whose creation is credited to computer scientist and mathematician Ron Resch. In Boreas, this Waterbomb origami module is transformed by a simple truncating operation and is further digitally manipulated. Through an algorithm based design process this simple module seed is rhythmically repeated in a series of definitions and mathematical functions in the software program Grasshopper so as to create complex assemblies that is flat-foldable and collapsible. By changing the mathematical parameters in the algorithmic structure, a myriad of distortions and transformations are generated in order to study the relationship between form, structure, and global flat-foldability.

A symmetrical design is chosen for final fabrication in this case study. Symmetrical design results in a more simplified fabrication process and an overall reduction of material consumption. 128 three-dimensional modules, of which only eight are unique, are unrolled into two dimensional shapes, modified by adding assembly details, and nested onto large sheets of High-Tec Kozo for digital cutting. This entire digital workflow is accomplished through the very same algorithmic structure that generates the forms, thus streamlining the process from form finding to digital fabrication and assembly. The resulting two dimensional forms are then folded by hand and assembled with small plastic buttons.

Hi-tec Kozo is a type of tear-free Shoji paper, which has a three-layer structure, with eco-friendly polyester film as core and Kozo Washi on both sides.  Kozo Washi is a type of renewable material that is made from the inner bark of Kozo, a type of mulberry tree that can be sustainably harvested each year. Unlike conventional paper manufacturing that contributes heavily to water, land, and air pollution, the manufacturing of Kozo Washi borrows from traditional hand-made paper processes and techniques and uses very little chemicals. The result is a type of paper that is much stronger and greener than conventional paper.

Boreas is part of the Anemoi Light Art collection. Visually similar to the soft and swaying body structure of the sea anemone (in Greek, Anemoi means “winds” and Anemone means “daughter of the wind”), Borea, doesn’t require any structural support to hold up its volumetric frame. When suspended and illuminated, Boreas sways into ephemeral and gentle patterns of light and shadow, softening their surroundings with pristine, mathematical geometry and rich, natural textures.


Ruga Interior Skin (RIS): Concept, Topology, Material and Making


Wu, J. (2015). Ruga Interior Skin (RIS): Concept, Topology, Material and Making. Proceedings of the Interior Design Educators Council Annual Meeting, Fortworth, Texas

In design history, the concept of ‘skin’ has been used to refer to the outermost tissue that encloses a physical body. Lois Weinthal writes that our skin is the first layer that we inhabit and it is the foundation of concepts that have influenced architects, designers, and decorators in creating various forms and surfaces in our interior space (Weinthal, 2013). The second layer we inhabit is sometimes said to be clothing, the third layer is furniture and objects, the fourth layer is colors and surfaces, and so on and so forth until we reach the last layer where the interior starts to merge into the exterior. According to Weinthal, interior architecture can be understood as a series of layers of enclosures where the body is placed at the center (Weinthal, 2011).  If ‘second skin’ is used as a metaphor for clothing, ‘third skin,’ or ‘interior skin,’ can be used as a metaphor for all layers of interior surfaces, as found in furniture, finishes, and curtains, that brush up against architecture and the body, but do not necessarily have to mimic either(Weinthal, 2011).

The relationship between fashion, architecture, and interior design have been explored by many modernist architects, either through making and designing clothing, or through theoretical writings. For at least ten years, Frank Lloyd Wright not only designed houses, but he also sometimes designed clothing for the owners of the houses he was the architect for, aiming to achieve total unity in a built environment(Gorman, 1996). Aldof Loos, who wrote extensively on fashion, style, and architecture, argued that the cut of an Englishman’s suit could be seen as a paradigmatic model for the construction of modern architecture (Loos & Opel, 1998). In fact, the intersection between fashion, architecture, interior design, and between surface skin and structural depth, reaches back as early as the nineteenth century.  In 1845, Charles Baudelaire, called the black frock coat “the outer skin of the modern hero,” thus allowing the word skin to first take on a literal role in reference to fashion (Baudelaire & Charvet, 1972). German architect Gottfried Semper, in the nineteenth century, argued that the origin of the architectural concept of skin came from the hanging of textile and cloth, and that the German word Wand (wall), had the same root and basic meaning as Gewand (garment) (Semper, 1989). For Semper, walls and interior surfaces gave shape to space as much as garments enclosed and defined the contours of the body. The form and the movement of clothing—the second skin—mimics the body through the materiality of textile and the apparel construction techniques. Similarly, interior skin, from the sheets we sleep between to the curtain we draw on the window, require active and flexible engagement from the body (Weinthal, 2013). From early modernist architecture to contemporary art, architects, designers and artists who draw the connections between fashion, interior and architecture often visibly connect and blur boundaries between the spaces wrapping around the body and the spaces formed within the rigid architecture frame. For example, the avant-garde artists Christo and Jeanne-Claude, created large scale installation by wrapping architectural structures and other large structures such as bridges and fences in vinyl fabrics. By changing the bodily scale of the drapes, folds and pleats to the scale of buildings and landscapes, the artists not only created new visual forms, but also challenged the viewers to see ordinary structures in the new contexts of wrapping and dressing.

So, if the concept of ‘interior skin’ can be understood as a generator of ideas for interiors that lie in between the flexible spaces around the body and the rigid spaces within the building, what new form and context can an interior skin take? Can this interior skin be made of non-structural sheet material and be semi-rigid while fulfilling an important spatial function? Can it be configurable, and can it move and interact with its occupants at the human scale? What are some design considerations, tools, techniques, material selection for making an interior skin? And how can a new approach to developing an innovative interior skin contribute to our ongoing search for sustainable design that places the human body at its center? This paper investigates Ruga Interior Skin (RIS) in an ongoing research project that explores new approaches to these interior skins. RIS explores ways to cross the boundaries between the clothing making and interior surface making by the use of patterning, pleating or folding.

Ruga Swan at Clay Center for Arts and Sciences, Charleston, VA
Ruga Swan at Clay Center for Arts and Sciences, Charleston, VA

Folding into Light: Sustainability, Making, and Materials


Wu, J. (2015). Folding into Light: Material, Form, and Making, International Journal of Design Objects, Volume 9, Issue 4, pp. 34-45, 2015

Environmental issues (such as pollution, climate change, and natural resource depletion) are increasingly becoming the core factors in consumer manufacturing industries.  Designers, manufacturers and marketing strategists are more conscious of taking account of sustainable product development in their design strategies (Kloepffer, 2003). Today, more and more products are designed by reducing the amount of materials and energy used, and by increasing the recyclable content and its potentiality for reuse. This trend has resulted in sustainable product designs that incorporate the use of green materials. One such green material is paper, due to its high level of recyclable contents. Paper is often thrown away or recycled after one-time or short-term use because of its fragility and commonality. Due to recent advances in the material science of paper development, paper has started to be used for technical components and for three dimensional products (Schmidt, 2009). According to Schmidt, technical paper is a new type of material that is manufactured in a similar way to conventional paper and consists of similar raw materials. It is processed and shaped using the same technologies or processes as conventional paper and possesses qualities similar to conventional paper, such as its feel, weight, and format. Technical paper that is water- and weather-proof, tear-proof, and chemical resistant, is now being used for the manufacturing of light-weight and long lasting products. Product designers have begun to turn their attention to this cheap and common material and have started to recognize the sustainable value in it. For example, renowned architects such as Frank Gehry and Shigeru Ban and renowned designer Issey Miyaki have used paper to produce their furniture, buildings, and even fashion.

Paper may be cut, scored, torn, rolled, or folded. In particular, folded paper design, using techniques that are similar to traditional origami, have inspired designers to come up with innovative design products. One of the early design explorations through paper folding was found in Josef Albers’ preliminary design class in the Bauhaus (Wingler & Stein, 1969). When a flat piece of paper is folded, the stiffness of the paper is significantly increased. When paper is folded in certain tessellation patterns, the mechanical behavior of the paper is altered as it becomes deployable and kinetic. Origami-inspired paper designs have been the subjects of many scientific research projects.  For example, mathematical theorems concerning geometric properties in folded paper have been studied (Demaine & O’Rourke, 2008). Computer algorithms have been developed to help fold desirable objects and to understand the best ways to fold tray cartons (Mullineux, 2010). Finite element analysis has been used to study the behavior of paper during the folding process (Beex & Peerlings, 2009). Curved folding and creasing have been investigated. Many more research projects focus on understanding the computational complexity and geometric algorithms of paper folding and unfolding. While research into paper folding has been conducted in computer science, mathematics, engineering and material science, little research has been conducted on paper folding in the field of design practice. This article is an attempt to fill this gap by systemically exploring practical means of using paper folding in product design in order to understand the making process and the materiality of paper in product design.

The goal of this paper is to understand the overlapping issues of sustainability, making techniques, and material choices by applying the art of paper folding in product design and the development of light sheds. Geometric tessellated patterns that can produce flat-foldable and rigid-foldable designs are focused, and variations of these crease patterns are explored to generate a variety of folded designs that can be used toward light sheds. A wide variety of durable conventional paper and technical paper materials that are appropriate for light sheds are compared and tested in terms of their material properties, functionalities and sustainability attributes. In order to investigate such issues, we will examine a lighting brand, Folded Light Art. Currently technical production processes for cutting and etching sheet materials, such as digital cutting or laser cutting, as well as traditional hand folding, are used to produce the scale paper models and 1:1 scale prototypes for the works of Folded Light Art. Luminary hardware is fabricated at local sheet metal shops. Potential CNC technologies of creasing and folding sheet materials are further explored in this article.


Ruga Architectural Skin (RAS): Towards Building Smart Self-Folding Topology


Wu, J., Anwar, S. (2016). Ruga Interior Skin (RIS): Towards Building Smart Self-Deployable Structures,” International Journal of the Constructed Environment, Volume 7, Issue 3, pp. 17-30, 2016

In architectural design, skin is a familiar metaphor for building envelopes that provide flexible layers of protection and are often dependent upon rigid structural supports. With advances in material technology and sustainable development, architectural skins are changing, creating new topological forms, providing new visual and tactile experiences, and becoming the conceptual bridge between our body and our environment. Can a three-dimensional architectural skin be self-assembled or self-folded from two-dimensional sheet material? Can this architectural skin be made of non-rigid material and yet provide semi-rigid structural support? What are the design considerations, tools, techniques, methods and processes of building such an architectural skin? And how can a new approach to developing an innovative architectural skin contribute to our ongoing search for energy-efficient building design, self-assembling deployable shelter, as well as sustainable construction techniques? This paper will introduce Ruga Architectural Skin (RAS), an ongoing research project exploring the potentiality of a new type of architectural skin.

“Ruga” is a Latin word for making winkles, creases, and folds, and the word has been recently used by material scientists to describe the various physical qualities of these various folded states. RAS is inspired by the use of folding to create complex topological forms from flat thin sheet material with simple and low cost tools. Folded forms have inherently rigid properties and at the same time are flexible. In comparison to other fabrication techniques, folding or bending allows for complex and innovative structures formed with simple and low cost tools at the point of assembly. From flat sheet material, folded designs can be easily deployed into a three-dimensional volume and then can be collapsed back to a two-dimensional flat shape that is much smaller for ease shipping and storage.

Many folded designs are inspired by origami, the Japanese art of paper folding. The original purpose of origami is to obtain various shapes, ranging from animals figures to objects, both abstract and figurative, by folding a flat sheet of uncut paper. Constructing a three-dimensional surface from two-dimensional sheet material in origami has inspired designers and engineers to come up with novel ways to fabricate, assemble, store and morph structures that are safe, efficient and energy saving (Edwin, Hartl, Malak, & Lagoudas, 2014), from collapsible medical stents for hearts (Kuribayashi et al., 2006) to airbags for cars. In architectural design, one of the earliest examples of exploration of paper folding and topological design of architectural system was conducted by Ron Resch (Ronald D Resch, 1973). In the last two decades, folding, both as a theoretical idea and as a means for form generation in architecture, has inspired a new generation of architects and designers to create morphogenesis architectural volumes with continuous variations and interpolations that overlaps gaps and avoid fracture (Lynn, 2004). Morphological architectural structures are starting to make use of one of the main characteristics of folding design – the kinetic ability to deploy and collapse in three-dimensional space (Liapi, 2002; Motro, 2009). More recently, researchers have been looking into using active materials that can convert various form of energy into mechanical work for folding to create self-folding (Edwin et al., 2014). However, low cost architectural skins that are deployable, configurable and that are in large scales, continue to be very challenging for architects and designers.

This architectural skin comes from two-dimensional sheet materials that can be pre-fabricated off-site and then shipped flat to the site, thus tremendously reducing the required amount of energy and resources in comparison to conventional structures. Once arriving on the site, it can be self-assembled or self-folded, suspended and reconfigured differently into various semi-structural surfaces. Although this architectural skin has roots in a paper folding art form, it proposes not only to significantly advance the technology of the art form, but also to transform this technology to the self-assembling structures that can potentially shift the paradigm in building temporary architecture.

This paper starts with a discussion of the application of origami in self-assemble and deployable architectural topologies. While objective of this paper is towards building smart self-folding architectural topology, this paper currently focuses on identifying the design considerations, tools, techniques, methods and processes of making and installing of several 1:1 scale mock-ups in corrugated cardboard, testing of varies materials, and surveying of the self-folding mechanism design and remote micro-processor control system design. Pending funding opportunity will allow us to build a 1:1 scale smart architectural skin prototype.

This research is a collaboration between Jiangmei Wu and Sohel Anwar.