Jenny Sabin has described her creations as ‘knitted light’. ‘I’m referencing the process and the particular responses of the hi- tech fibres I’m working with. First there is photoluminescence – the fibres absorb UV or sunlight at a molecular scale, and
then slowly emit light as that energy source dissipates.
The second response is that they are solar active – they
change colour in the presence of the sun.’
New York-based Sabin ‘investigates the intersections of
architecture and science,’ she says, ‘and applies insights
and theories from biology and mathematics to the
design of material structures’. She is currently assistant
professor in design and emerging technologies at
the Department of Architecture, Cornell University.
She is also principal of Jenny Sabin Studio, an
experimental architectural design studio based in
Ithaca, NY, and director of the Sabin Design Lab at
Cornell AAP, a hybrid research and design unit which
specialises in computational design, data visualisation
and digital fabrication.
Her exploration of 3D seamless digital knitting as
a potential architectural material began five years
ago when she received a commission from Nike.
The myThread Pavilion was commissioned by the
sportswear company for the International Nike FlyKnit
Collective, an architectural initiative challenging a
curated group of designers, artists and architects to
create installations based on the core features of the
collection – performance, lightness, formfitting and
sustainability. ‘I decided to integrate knitting processes
into architectural-scale applications of that particular
material,’ she says. ‘I’ve been refining and innovating this
material system, which I basically invented and designed
in 2012 for that original commission from Nike.’
The body, specifically the body in motion, was the
starting point. Using Nike+ FuelBand technology to
collect motion data from a community of runners
during an earlier Nike Flyknit workshop, Sabin
collaborated with the runners to translate the patterns
of this biological data into the geometry and material
of knitted structure. ‘I’m very interested in probing the
human body as a biodynamic model that can give us
new ways of thinking about issues of performance and
adaptation at an architectural scale,’ Sabin has said.
‘The criteria of performance, lightness, formfitting
and sustainability become immediately relevant in
terms of what we are doing.’
A follow-up project was PolyThread, commissioned
by Cooper Hewitt Smithsonian Design Museum for
the Beauty-Cooper Hewitt Design Triennial in 2016.
Around 20 feet (6m) across, this was more complex,
featuring a double surface connected through
Previous page, above and
right: Lumen, which will open
on 29 June at MoMA PS1 in
New York, will be Sabin’s most
ambitious structure to date.
‘ We’ll be working with the actual
environment and sunlight’