Tactility Factory is the result of a collaboration between Ruth Morrow (architect, Queen’s University, Belfast) and Trish Belford (textile designer, University of Ulster).
The research that underpins the technology being commercialised through Tactility Factory (www.tactilityfactory.com) was driven by the idea of ‘making hard things soft’. It is a response to feminist and inclusive design critiques of the built environment and in recognition of two specific conditions:
The dominance of the visual and hence under-exploitation of other senses in Built Environment processes
The remoteness of the architect from the fabrication process; and realization that most components and materials that make up the built environment are designed to meet technical and not human performance criteria
After some early stage development a research question emerged, recognising the uniqueness of the process and as well as the focus:
How might a collaboration between an architect and a textile designer result in making ‘hard things soft’ in the built environment and what outcomes might emerge from that process?
The project aims became:
To place design thinking and textile technologies at the heart of concrete manufacturing processes,
To build creative, technical collaborations that lead to beautiful and useful concrete products
To reflect on, document and actively disseminate the process and practice
Essentially, Tactility Factory combines the technique and technologies of concrete and textiles to permanently co-form concrete surfaces.
The project has passed through several phases of development including:
Conceptual: Mapping the Context; Working between Macquettes and Conceptual Ideas; and Developing a Third Nomenclature that communicates across concrete/ textile cultures
Technical: Testing and Material Development stage; Developing Textiles for Concrete, Developing Concrete for Textiles. Refining Process and Product
Reflective: Crafting and disseminating a position for the work
Four textile techniques have been specifically developed):
Linen Concrete: the surface combination of Concrete and Linen
Stitched Linen Concrete: the surface combination of Concrete, Linen and Digital Stitching
Velvet Concrete: the surface combination of Concrete and Velvet
Beaded Crystal Concrete: the surface combination of Concrete and Crystal Beaded textiles
The textiles are not used to create an imprint, instead they have been designed and developed to permanently co-form the surface of precast concrete in ways that prevent them from being subsumed by or removed from the concrete. Textiles cover the full surface, even where it seems that it is just concrete.
The structure and design of the textiles allows for full design control of the surface. Each of the four textile techniques can be used to create a range of surface designs – all of which, regardless of how random they may appear, are fully replicable. This is design not art.
Tactility Factory also provides a platform from which to reflect on the marrying of two diverse cultures (concrete and textiles); the processes developed in response; and the insights gained. It speaks to new forms of material practice, specifically textiles and craft; and to architectural and interior design practice by nature of its hybridity and suggestions of new forms of material-based design practice and innovative means of built environment product development. Investigation of these issues has been disseminated in exhibitions, conference papers, and invited presentations.
The work has also been picked up by cultural commentators concerned with issues as diverse as: new trends in textiles, the legacy and future of Irish Linen and the creative conjoining of Northern Ireland’s indigenous industries.
The bigger picture for the research is to ‘expand the potential of concrete by turning a cold, grey, acoustically harsh and unappealing substance to something warm, colourful, acoustically soft and appealing’ (Morrow and Belford, 2012). Whilst resolving the technology of the skins we gradually have tested this early statement and the potential for the application of the technology to be more than decorative. Potentials exist in its acoustic profile, in what it offers to the increase use of exposed concrete for thermal mass and the creation of articulated surfaces without the need for expensive mouldage and or post-production processes.
Tactility Factory’s patented surfaces have won innovation awards (25K award, Homes and Gardens, etc); been exhibited internationally in cultural (Kentucky Museum of Arts and Craft, Bangkok Design Festival, etc) and commercial venues (Innoveteques Expo, Paris, BRE Innovation park, Lafarge Ecobuild pavilion, London). The work has been cited internationally (Schoeser, Quinn); drawn approximately £500K of public and private investment; represented by international material agencies, spotted by trend-forecasters, included in the Northern Irish Science Park’s ‘Museum of the Here and Now’; sold worldwide (UK, Egypt, UAE) and featured on BBC Radio 4, Woman’s Hour.