Shortly after I started my graduate studies I heard someone say to another student, a textiles student, “weaving and architecture are a lot alike, they both have inherent structural principles”. I was very intrigued by this statement, I could have never imagined, at the time, that something like a textile, a soft, two-dimensional object made at the scale of the hand by one person, could be intrinsically related to the structures we build with large machines, displacing earth, requiring large teams and managers.
Months later I was travelling to India and Sri Lanka, visiting humanitarian projects and women’s help groups in post-war Sri Lanka. I saw people working with textiles as a way of supporting themselves and keeping their traditions alive. I watched them embroider, weave, and print their stories their wishes and their observations onto cloth that would be moved around and exchanged, the narrative shared.
I also met with communities that had experienced displacement, or were likely to experience mass migration due to conflict, natural disasters, and industrialization. This too I found compelling as the world we live in is a very transient place, with constant change, both cultural and environmental, and that nomadic architecture is somehow ever more relevant in this context.
Years later I started probing the notion of architecture as a textile and the process of weaving as a viable construction method that is accessible to the scale of the hand and provides opportunity for a coded narrative.
While many communities around the world engage in construction with soft and pliable materials, from total reliance on swamp reeds –like the Qasab dwellings of the Marsh Arabs– to the woven palm cladding of the subtropical regions of the world; but the construction with natural materials today, in most places, carries an association with poverty and lack of progress. The ability for a an individual and his or her loved ones to harvest, process, and assemble locally grown materials to make a home is dying and quickly leading to a world homogenous in materiality and visual and sensorial identity. While I ultimately plan to work entirely with natural materials I have also included used plastic packaging strips and cold rolled steel tubes –things easily sourced in cities and industrial settings– into my experimentation to develop full-scale prototypes.
Finger traps, fish traps, and experiments with folded and curled pieces of flimsy materials all facilitated the understanding of structures and forms made with light, flexible, and fibrous materials. The studies revealed three main principles: strength through bundling, strength through integration (over and under), strength through folding and curving.
Over the course of a few months a number of woven elements had been experimented with, their assembly and form evolving for efficiency and flexibility. The basic element undergoing constant scrutiny is a funnel formed column, like one a spider could weave. The woven siphon integrates with other ones like it to form barrel vaults. It acts as formwork for concrete, a gabion basket for rocks and rubble, or a hollow tube for light and air. It is light and can be made with little to no power tools, just intelligent jigs – looms.
I constantly seek for opportunities to continue developing and probing the woven structure in a variety of cultural settings, from the industrial landscapes of Providence, where three funnels will be installed to create a rain garden, to the sub tropical regions of the world that are able to readdress viable construction technologies and sustainability. I collaborate and seek advise from structural engineers, fabric sculptors, architects, and other curious designers and makers like myself.