Body, Form, Material and Surface Making of Ruga Interior Skin

Citation: Wu, J. (2017). Body, Form, Material and Surface Making of Ruga Interior Skin, Interiors: Design/Architecture/Culture, Volume 8, Issue 3, pp. 73-87. 2017

Link to full paper in PDF

Abstract: In design history, the concept of ‘skin’ has been used to refer to the outermost tissue that encloses a physical body. So, if the concept of ‘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 in adding to the contemporary interiority? Borrowing from the metaphor of ‘skin’ in fashion, interior design and architecture, Ruga Interior Skin (RIS) explores the ambiguous and conceptual realm connecting the act of wearing, inhabiting and its relationship between body, form, material, and surface-making of a novel interior semi-structural wall and partition. ‘Ruga’ is the Latin word for making wrinkles, creases, pleats, and folds. RIS is inspired by the use of wrinkling and folding to create flexible frameless topological forms that can be suspended in a way that is similar to a piece of cloth or textile. Both flexible and rigid, RIS draws the connection between the body and the interior surface, placing the dichotomy of permanent vs. ephemeral, solid vs. light, and material vs. digital at the center of the concept.

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

Folded Light in Beginning Interior Architecture Studio

fullsizerender-1_editedIn my Beginning Interior Architecture Studio in Fall 2016, co-caught with Jei Kim and Jon Racek, the first year design students were asked to use paper folding design methodology to understand basic design  principles, such as unity, repetition, symmetry, contrast, etc. They were also asked to use the assembly and construction process in paper folding to produce a small scale light sculpture. The project was divided into three cohesive small parts that serve as scaffolds for the students. Prior to this project, majority of students had never folded before and had never made any design objects. Therefore learning scaffolds were necessary.

In the first part, the students were asked to create small units of paper folds from pieces of small square paper based on simple line draws they made using straight edges and compasses. They were asked to explore these pattern in both bilateral and quadrant symmetries. They were given a couple of examples learn about how to assign mountain and valley folds to the lines patterns and then they were asked to turn their own line patterns into crease patterns by exploring various ways of folding and cutting by hands. The students were intimated at first as they were not comfortable working with their hands. They soon gained confidences when they observed how flat pieces of square paper changed into something that had sculptural depths.

In the second part, the students were asked to connect at least eight units of their paper folds together. The goal was to generate somewhat seamless designs. Students were taught to connect the units by using ways to make symmetric pattern in plane, such as translation, rotation, reflection, glide-reflection. They were also taught to use polyhedron geometry to connect the units into spherical volumes. They studied platonic solids such as icosahedron and dodecahedron, Archimedean solids such as cuboctahedron and rhombicuboctahedrons, as well as Catalan solids such as rhombic dodecahedron and rhombic triacontahedron.

In the last part, the students were asked to add more units to create a volumetric paper sculpture. They were graded on the craftsmanship and the final lighted presentation. Many of the students turned in interesting works. Most students did a good job creating their units design, however, they had more difficulty connecting the units together to generate structure volumes.

Special thanks to Noelle Zeichner, Abigail Stawick, Julia Gilstrap and Yuning Ding for providing some of the pictures shown in this blog. For my Folded Light Art brand, please visit

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.

C481 Workshop on Digital Fabrication and Interior Design


This post has been rewritten and published in IDEC Exchange: A Forum for Interior Design Education, Spring 2016.

Citation: Wu, J. (2016). Materialization Matters: Weekend Workshop on Digital Fabrication and Interior Design, IDEC Exchange: A Forum for Interior Design Education, Spring 2016

This one credit hour weekend workshop introduced design students to tools, work-flow, and considerations in digital fabrication and its creative application in contemporary interior design. In recent years, the culture of custom digital fabrication has heavily influenced the practice of architecture, interior design and design pedagogy. The focus of the workshop was to materialize a digital design to a 1:1 scale interior skin installation as a group. The learning goal of the workshop was to understand the basics of work-flow and considerations between digital design and physical making in the context of large-scale installation. Besides the hands-on making and learning, the students also had the opportunity to visit an industrial-scale fabrication shop, Noblitt Fabricating, in Columbus, Indiana.

The center of this workshop was the latest iteration of Ruga Interior Skin. The free-form geometric surface was modeled in Grasshopper and Rhino before the workshop. The main folding pattern was Yoshimura pattern. It was made up of 68 unique pieces of panels that were folded and connected to form a large semi-structural interior skin that stood about 8 feet in height, 15 feet in width and 12 feet in length. This was the first time I conducted this workshop, I was a bit nervous and not sure what to expect of the installation outcome. We started by folding the laser cut cardboard pieces, fabricated by Steve Dixon at Noblitt Fabricating, at 10 am on Saturday. By 1 pm, 68 unique pieces of cardboard were all folded and ready for assembly and installation. Because of the free-form geometric design, these 68 panels cannot be connected in flat surface. The only way to connect these panels is to hang them sequentially in segments and to allow the gravity to fold the pre-scored mountain and valley crease lines while connecting them using rivets, nuts and bolts. While this process proved to be a very difficult task, the students in the workshop were enthusiastic. This hands-on experience required them to self-organize and figure out a system to piece together the panels. In three hours, the large interior skin installation was completed! What a great job! Special thanks goes to Steve Dixon and to the following students who work extremely hard: Yueyang Chen, Madeline Collins, Anqi Fan, Flute Fu, Xinhui Fu, Renzhi Huang, Tianxing Shen, Erin Stump, Han Sun, Zhiyu Wang and Zhanhua Yan. Congratulations to you all!

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