A fundamental principle in design and architecture states that form follows function, since the shape of a structure is determined by its intended use. While this statement is still valid, the natures of form and function have been redefined by the changes society went through in the last few decades, also thanks to new means, devices and programmes. We could therefore add a corollary to this principle, the one stating that new functions can evolve from innovative forms. Among the tangible proofs of this statement there is a 3D Weaver recently devised by London-based designer and engineer Oluwaseyi Sosanya.
Fascinated by the possibilities that different materials could offer him, Sosanya started exploring the applications that a simple structure found in nature - the honeycomb - could give him and, in collaboration with weaver Sophie Zajicek, developed a loom capable of three-dimensionally weave layers of warp threads and patterns.
Inspired by sewing and industrial knitting machines, the 3D Weaver functions with a process similar to that behind a 3D printer, but allows to create layered and woven elastic structures in cotton yarn and liquified silicon that can resist and absorb impact and that, having similar properties to that of soft injection foams, prove ideal for different applications in disciplines ranging from medicine and aerospace to sportswear and fashion. A few months ago Sosanya made indeed a prototype shoe sole in collaboration with footwear designers Lixian (Lisa) Teng and Tomiwa Adeosun and leather surface designer Rozanna Walecki (Sosanya is actually not new to collaborations with fashion designers and four years ago he produced soles for shoes by Portland-based Ms. Wood using reclaimed wood from an old church in Oregon).
Sosanya has also worked on interior design projects and on collaborations that employ innovative platforms like Arduino (in the "Floe" installation, in collaboration with Meira, a device that replicates the shape and movement of ice drifting on the surface of the North Atlantic) or augmented reality glasses (for the Gravity Sketch, a collaborative project with Guillaume Couche, Daniela Paredes Fuentes and Pierre Paslier, that allows to sketch an object in real space with a special pen and pad). The young designer is currently still working on taking further the process behind his 3D Weaver, but you can be sure that new functions will evolve over time from his innovative forms.
Can you tell us more about your background?
Oluwaseyi Sosanya: I studied Innovation Design Engineering, a joint masters course at The Royal College of Arts and Imperial College London that reunites craft and production practices with industrial design. The program focuses on new and sustainable designs. Before London I worked in Taipei, Taiwan, as a materials researcher. My undergraduate studies were in Mechanical Engineering, with focus on thermodynamics. The biggest lesson I learnt from my education was "fail and fail often and fast": in a nutshell, I have learnt so much from projects and courses that I have struggled with.
You have been developing different projects and collaborations that merge technology with crafts, what's the most exciting aspect of working on these projects with professionals from fields as different as technology, interior and product design, fashion, and so on?
Oluwaseyi Sosanya: The most exciting thing about working in an interdisciplinary way is the amount of cross-pollination that takes place. For example being exposed to traditional glass blowing and OLED manufacturing in the same week really gets ideas popping off. I am a big fan of the Renaissance: scientist, musicians and artist were all intermingling then and, in some cases, one person was fluent in all these disciplines. At some point we moved away from this type of interaction, but I do believe there is so much potential in collaboration and I find myself growing not only professionally, but personally in all of the projects I collaborate with others on. It really opens my eyes to different possibilities.
Which one of the projects you worked on was particularly tricky? The Gravity Sketch pads seemed quite complicated to develop...
Oluwaseyi Sosanya: All of my projects have included some sort of struggle. I embrace this challenge and that's what really drives my creativity. The Gravity Sketch was a really good project because there were four of us, and we all backed each other up. When things got hard we all restructured and put our heads together to master the challenges, this is the great part of working with a strong team. The 3D Weaver was a self-initiated project and started with a completely different brief. I struggled a lot in defining just what I was trying to achieve. I was essentially looking for a new type of textile that could protect the user from impact, something that could potentially replace foam.
At the moment there is a lot of interest in the possibilities that 3D printing can give us, what inspired you to pursue the 3D Weaver project?
Oluwaseyi Sosanya: I first started experimenting on a traditional hand-loom I built from a few pieces of scrap wood. I was interested in discovering some innovative structures directly from a loom that could have existed 5,000 years ago. I soon found this process to be quite limited, especially because I had no pre-existing knowledge in weaving. So I linked with a technical weaver - Sophie Zajicek - to look at what would be possible to do on automated machines. The problem here was limited access to the loom, and I had a hard time exploring that option properly. I then went to a few textile mills in Yorkshire to see what I could learn from mass production. It was here that I discovered looms that are designed for specific textiles and tasks. It was clear after this trip that I would need to build my own machine. I turned to the idea of looking into small platform CNC machines that people were making on the Internet. At this point I had to move fast so I decided to use materials that could be quickly laser cut and linked together. What the machine allowed me to do was move freely in the X Y and Z. This opened a huge possibility and allowed me to finally explore the structures I was imagining. I could also pre-program materials, changing the density in different locations to achieve different performance.
What was the biggest challenge in developing the 3D Weaver?
Oluwaseyi Sosanya: I would say the biggest challenge was gaining access to industry looms to learn and explore structures before building the 3D Weaver. The software was also a bit tricky to program.
In which kind of fields would you like to see the 3D Weaver being employed – architecture, design, fashion, engineering, medicine?
Oluwaseyi Sosanya: I am really interested in seeing this material and production process enter the medical and textile world and potentially help someone live a better life. I am also quite passionate about sportswear and architecture. I have been speaking with professionals from both fields to see how they may incorporate this material in their design practice and, at this stage, I am still learning and the project is still developing.
In the video you made, you show us how a piece produced with the 3D Weaver can be used as the sole of a pair of shoes: would you like to launch a collaboration with a fashion house/designer/brand to develop customizable footwear?
Oluwaseyi Sosanya: We wear shoes everyday and they represent one of the first and foremost protection we need on an everyday basis, so I would really like to work with a footwear company to take the process further and see how we can get some great performance out of the materials.
In other projects you employed the Arduino, do you think this platform could help developing projects relating to 3D printing as well?
Oluwaseyi Sosanya: Arduino is a great base for anyone to start programming and getting things to do what you want them to. With respect to code operated machines it has absolutely opened the access to a wider audience.
3D printing is currently considered as an innovative technique that may have great applications in future and maybe even radically change our lives - do you feel we are currently witnessing a new industrial revolution or experiencing the beginning of a new industrial revolution?
Oluwaseyi Sosanya: 3D printing was developed over 30 years ago. I think what has changed is our access as consumers to this technology. The idea of manufacturing in your home on a dining table and not in your garage is really interesting. The maker movement is changing the mindset of many people. We are now empowered with the tools to perform very complicated operations. What is inspiring is that we are at a point where so many people are open to exploring. Musicians, artists, designers, and engineers are crossing fields building their own tools and are open to collaborations. We could potentially be entering another Renaissance.
Will you be presenting any of your projects at international events/fairs or are you planning to launch a crowd-funding project at some stage?
Oluwaseyi Sosanya: I have no current plans to crowd-fund the 3D Weaver, I am more interested in teaming with an industry leader to build the process and perfect it. It is really much more about the material than the machine. I already have several designs for the next iteration of the machine and loads of structures I am eager to explore. I will be presenting the work at the British Invention Show at the end of the month and will be at Downtown Design in Dubai with Gravity Sketch on 27th October.
Image credits for this post
All images courtesy Oluwaseyi Sosanya; 3D Weaver video produced by Zuzanna Weiss; photos by Guillaume Couche.
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