Friday, 19 February 2016

We have never been naked: insulation as a performing surface

On 30 January 2016, Eva Sopeoglou [1], Matina Kousidi [2] and Joanna Pierce [3] organised a multi-disciplinary collaborative workshop titled “We Have Never Been Naked: Insulation as a Performing Surface”. The workshop was part of Unfrozen – First Swiss Design Network Research Winter Summit symposium, held at Grandhotel Giessbach Brienz, Switzerland between 28-31 January 2016.

This Textile and Architectural multi-disciplinary international collaboration came together to explore the boundaries between space and insulation materials relating to both buildings and bodies. Set in the beautiful but cold environment of the Swiss Alps with snow capped peaks in the background, the workshop explored the subject of insulation properties through environmental installation, material exploration, collage, situation and action, as well as a range of senses; to formulate, experience and respond to sub-zero temperatures. 

Each presenter shared their expertise on the topic. Eva Sopeoglou’s research on human thermal comfort juxtaposed the physical need to protect the body from cold with the perplexing delight in experiencing a variety of temperatures, reminding that feeling cold and warm is a state of mind.

Matina Kousidi delved into the rich history of links between architecture and fashion and their overlapping interest to cover, house and protect the body, concluding that 'environments may be fit for human beings by any number of means'. 

Joanna Pierce introduced the processes that textile designers employ in order to manipulate and transform textile surfaces – folding, wrapping, knotting – and explained the many ways that textiles can perform in fulfilling ritualistic, technical and ecological purposes.

Participants were asked to address the research question of the role of insulation for the body and the built environment. They were prompted to respond with a piece of ‘performance architecture’, for example, a piece of clothing or a site-specific architectural enclosure – to be worn by one or many. The performances included a piece of spoken word, text narration, discussion, acting, staging. 

The proposals considered insulation alongside the collective or the sublime experience of cold environments. For example, body warmth can become social, a shared means to spend time outdoors, even among strangers. A ‘duvet wall’ can facilitate conversation between people at a bus stop. A site-specific outfit which includes built-in insulation, furniture, a garment and goggle accessories can allow one to delight in a multi-sensory panorama of a wintery landscape. 

The workshop prompted everyone to continue their pursuit to design fit environments for human activities. At the same time, this winter symposium was excellent excuse to delight in the cold.

This workshop was partly funded by a University of Hertfordshire - Santander Small Grant for Multi-disciplinary Research.

[1] Eva Sopeoglou is Lecturer of Architecture and Interior Architecture and Design at the University of Hertfordshire.
[2] Dr. Matina Kousidi is a Research Fellow in Architecture and Urban Studies at the Politecnico di Milano.
[3] Joanna Pierce is Senior Lecturer, Print Pathway Leader and Researcher at the Textile Futures Research Centre, Central St Martins, University of the Arts London.

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