Sean Ahlquist1

1, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, Michigan, United States

The field of computational design in architecture commonly focuses the formulation of design tools that facilitate control over the relationships between advanced manufacturing and material structure. This allows for technical efficiencies and design opportunities to be achieved in aligning material, structural and architectural performance. The research discussed here follows this material-driven practice through exploring the architectural potentials that emerge through the use of advanced textile manufacturing technologies, particular through CNC knit manufacturing. More critically, though, this research engages sensorial experience as a driver for the design and engineering of material performance and architectural responsivity. This is explored as a part of the Social Sensory Architectures research project, through the articulation of tent-like textile hybrid structures and their application to the development of skills in motor control and social interaction for children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD).

The ability to formulate and execute patterns of movement, through feedback between motor commands and sensory data, is pivotal to the development of social behaviour. The relationship between movement and its sensory consequence forms an understanding of the intentions of movement and, ultimately, provides the knowledge that allows the interpretation of other people’s gestures. For children with autism,
learning new patterns of movement is most reliant on proprioceptive feedback – sensation from muscle and joint articulation to determine position and orientation of the limbs and body. Visual stimulation has a secondary impact, meaning the non-physical stimuli can often play a less influential role. To synthesise movement and social behaviour, the multi-sensory nature of the playscape prototype is focused most heavily on its tactile qualities. This operates through multiple scales and in the instrumentalisation of elasticity at each scale. One level attends to forming skills for grading of movement, the ability to assess and execute the appropriate amount of pressure needed to
complete a task. Yarn, variegated stitch structure and the calibration of tensile forces generate an increasingly magnified tactile feedback as one pushes on the surfaces to greater depths. Another level of engagement corresponds to movement of the body through space and
time, the proprioceptive and vestibular senses that guide orientation and pace. The calibration of the pre-stressed textiles, laminated GFRP beams and spatial arrangement generates the combined experience of localised pressure at the interaction of the body with the textile and
minimised (though recognisable) deflection at the scale of the entire material system. Elasticity is tailored to satisfy deeper sensations of touch and register fine and gross movements. Correlation with the visual and auditory landscape fosters continual variability and saliency.