Fiber Pavilion Designed by Jenny E. Sabin Featured in Smithsonian Design Triennial

PolyThread by Jenny Sabin
The multicolored PolyThread is made from photo-luminescent and solar-active threads. photo / Matt Flynn © 2016 Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum
PolyThread detail
The knit fabric is composed of hundreds of individually knitted elements which work in tension with the armature. photo / Jenny Sabin Studio, courtesy of Jenny E. Sabin and Max Vanatta
PolyThread detail
Detail of PolyThread. photo / Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum
PolyThread under construction
Sabin and her team work to install PolyThread at the Cooper Hewitt during the first week of February. photo / Jenny Sabin Studio, courtesy of Jenny E. Sabin and Max Vanatta
Sabin's PolyBricks are also on display at Beauty. photo / Sabin Design Lab, Cornell Department of Architecture; courtesy Cooper Hewitt Design Museum
February 12, 2016

Visitors to a new exhibition opening today at the Cooper Hewitt, the Smithsonian Design Museum in New York City, can walk beneath a shimmering seven-foot-high knitted textile pavilion designed by Jenny E. Sabin, the Arthur L. and Isabel B. Wiesenberger Assistant Professor of Architecture.

The multicolored structure, made from photo-luminescent and solar-active threads, is one of two works that was commissioned by the museum for Beauty—Cooper Hewitt Design Triennial, an exhibition featuring more than 250 projects by 62 designers from around the globe.

"I think it's really going to be one of the highlights of the exhibition," said Andrea Lipps, cocurator of the show. "Just given the form, the structure, and the lighting, it really is a very special commission and installation."

Lipps said the museum decided to commission a textile pavilion by Sabin because of her pioneering work using emerging technologies in architecture. In addition to her pavilion, PolyThread, the exhibition includes a glass display of five objects designed by Sabin, including several "polybricks" constructed from 3D printing and digital ceramics.

"We have been really attracted to her work because she's proposing new ways of thinking about architecture," Lipps said. "From her pavilions to her 3D printed polybricks, she's doing some very interesting work that fuses digital trajectories with biological and material sciences."

Beauty is the fifth installment in the Cooper Hewitt's contemporary design exhibition series and will run through August 21 at the museum at 2 East 91st Street. With projects ranging from fashion ensembles to furniture, the exhibition explores contemporary design from the perspective of aesthetic innovation.

Sabin's 400-square-foot textile pavilion is the largest work in the exhibition, taking up half of a gallery on the museum's third floor. Covered with a maze of variegated cellular shapes, the pavilion features a 15-minute illumination sequence that mimics the colors of day to night, changing from a pale blue to white.

The structure is the second pavilion Sabin has been commissioned for in New York City. Her first pavilion was designed for Nike Inc. in 2012 and was displayed in Manhattan as part of the release of the company's Flyknit Collection, which uses a new technology for machine-knitted fabric that eliminates toxic glues in the manufacturing process.

Unlike the Nike pavilion, however, PolyThread was built with the structure fully integrated with the knitted fabric. "The framework, within the knitted material, is an active bending structure," Sabin said. "And the knit fabric, which is composed of hundreds of individually knitted elements, works in tension with the armature."

As part of her research on the intersection of textiles and architecture, Sabin views PolyThread as a prototype for applications of fabric-based structures in the built environment. "I can see this as a permanent large outdoor pavilion or structure that could operate well in a park or an outdoor environment," she said.

The process to create PolyThread took 10 months to complete. Sabin worked on the design with two collaborators at the Sabin Design Lab on campus — Charles Cupples (M.Arch '15) and Martin Miller, a former visiting critic at AAP. ARUP, an international engineering firm with offices in Boston, tested the integrity of the structure, and Shima Seiki U.S.A. Inc., which makes computerized knitting machines, created the material at its headquarters in Monroe Township, New Jersey.

Sabin installed the pavilion at the Cooper Hewitt the first week of February with Cupples and two undergraduate architecture students, Max Vanatta (B.Arch. '16) and Andrew Moorman (B.Arch. '17).

By Sherrie Negrea