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myThread Pavilion

Architectural designer Jenny Sabin's biologically-inspired installation launches Nike's Flyknit Collective in NYC

by Graham Hiemstra in Design on 17 September 2012

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Inspired by the marriage of design and engineering that birthed the groundbreaking Flyknit technology, Nike has selected a handful of global design innovators and tasked them with creating a sculpture, structure or installation piece influenced by the Flyknit shoe, to be unveiled at various locations in the US, China, Brazil, Japan, Italy and the UK. Each project by the members of the Flyknit Collective—chosen for their explorative curiosity and dominance in their respective fields—aims to demonstrate a unique pairing of new technology with new ways of thinking. Representing the US, NYC-based architectural designer, artist and educator Jenny Sabin tapped her experience and keen interest in science and molecular biology to create the myThread Pavilion at Nike's Bowery Stadium.

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Described by Sabin as a "dream brief," the Flyknit Collective was subject to only one parameter—each designer was encouraged to address Flyknit's essential characteristics. Commenting on her approach to designing the myThread Pavilion and working with Flyknit lead designer Ben Shaffer, Sabin says she "was excited by the prospect of bridging the complexity of the human body, thinking about how we can mine the body for biodynamic models and data sets that give rise to new ways of thinking about adaptation, performance and even sustainability in material structures, with the simplicity of knitting. So I really wanted to kind of open up the hood and understand how to interface those things, which Ben and his team do all the time."

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In order to gather data to build off of, Sabin lead a series of summer workshops in NYC to inspire participants to think differently about a possible relationship between sport and architecture. Wearing Nike FuelBands, the participants engaged in various activities around the city, producing data sets from recorded motion. Sabin and her team then looked at the hidden qualities, patterns and structures within the data sets, which were directly responsible for forming the myThread Pavilion.

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Using a mechanical process called tension knitting, each part of the spiderweb-like structure was woven concentrically to create seamless 3D forms using solar-activated, reflective and photoluminscent threads that each respond differently to variable lighting. Tension between the thread and a skeleton of laser-cut aluminum rings and steel cable net keeps the pavilion in place. "I wanted to play with the differentiation between a hard, metallic exterior edge and how that transitions into a soft, kind of organic form," says Sabin.

Facilitating this transition are tubelike "elements" extending out through the rings from the interior. "The entire thing is formally generated by the actual data from the workshops," says Sabin. "The areas of least activity in the data show less texture and fewer holes, and also far fewer striations. And as you move around the gradient gets much more intense, so this is where the data is very active and very dense."

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The myThread Pavilion will remain installed and open for public viewing at Nike's Bowery Stadium in Soho for the next six weeks, during which time other members of the Flyknit Collective will unveil their projects across the globe. For a more extensive look at Jenny Sabin's innovative works in archectecture, design and science visit her website. For a closer look at the myThread Pavilion see the slideshow.

Images by Graham Hiemstra

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