Interview with the Jongeriuslab by Sander Manse
It’s a bright and clear spring morning and I am meeting with the design team of the Jongeriuslab at the studio in Berlin Prenzlauer Berg, a small, multi-story building in the back courtyard of a typical Berlin apartment block. I know the building well since I have spent some time myself working here for Hella Jongerius a few years ago. A lot has changed inside. On the ground floor, a big digital jacquard loom (called the TC2) has moved into the workshop, surrounded by an orderly jumble of yarn and textile samples. One floor above, a beautiful bright studio space with skylights and exposed brick walls is filled with textile samples and woven objects that look like intricate pieces of otherworldly clothing, sci-fi props and architectural models made of yarn, all at once.
I sit down with the designers Laura Fügmann, Jos Klarenbeek, Sarah Meyers and Vera de Pont. Some have worked with Hella Jongerius for years, each with their own speciality and interests. For the exhibition Woven Cosmos, which will open on 28 April at the Gropius Bau, they are in the midst of exploring a new path in their research, which they call “multiaxial weaving”. During our conversation the room fills with a bustling energy while they pick up samples and fold them inside out, illustrating the way they create three dimensional woven structures on a flatbed digital loom.
Sander Manse: One of the questions for the exhibition Hella Jongerius: Woven Comos is how a flat, woven structure could be expanded or constructed as something three dimensional. When I look at these new samples that you have developed over the past weeks, I see quite a departure from the “bricks” that were woven on the Seamless Loom (2019). Instead of weaving around a structure you are building a spatial structure from the ground up.
Laura Fügemann: In a way it is more interesting than the Seamless Loom because these samples are all woven on the TC2, a flat loom. After weaving, we cut and fold them and they ‘pop-up’ into a three-dimensional structure. This is really exciting research.
Sander Manse: Filtering the internet for examples of 3D weaving you end up on the websites of companies that produce 3D woven composites, very strong, high-tech materials. How does your research relate to such technical and industrial products?
Jos Klarenbeek: If you look at some of the samples here, similar structures are done on 3D weaving machines. We’re weaving in multiple layers, that’s something you will find as well in very technical applications. The interesting part of what we do here is that we look at these structures and then we take just a few elements. We then try to see what comes out if you develop these further with a different range of materials, thicknesses, but also what happens when you go beyond the machine and rework the samples manually.
Sander Manse: How do you combine manual labour with automated weaving?
Laura Fügemann: Our hands “think” beyond the machine and I sketch on the loom. I think we allow ourselves a lot more freedom by working with our hands.
Sarah Meyers: Complexity and playfulness, I think, are important. When a sample comes off the loom, there is still work to be done by hand.
Jos Klarenbeek: That’s something that in the end could become more smart, more developed. Now we glue and cut.
Laura Fügemann: Yes, basically we are doing by hand what the machine cannot do yet. The object is not finished when the loom finishes weaving. Maybe in the future, if our research really makes sense, these machines could be developed.
Sarah Meyers: An answer, for example, could be melting yarn that glues layers together by applying heat. We were pushing this process further during the weeks left before the opening of Woven Cosmos.
Sander Manse: Can you walk me through the process of producing this object for example: a framework made of strips of fabric creating two interlocking cubes. I see it’s actually all one piece of woven fabric.
Vera de Pont: We start with a handwoven paper sample, folded and stapled together to get an understanding of the construction.
Jos Klarenbeek: Then we determine what it would look like woven flat, and with the knowledge and skills we have developed now, we make a digital weaving file for it. In the case of this sample, we stacked six layers in one piece of fabric, and this is something you can do on any loom. You basically split the warp and in this way, you create layers, which then fold into a cube. We determine where these layers are connected by defining the binding patterns. We develop these bindings ourselves – there are plain ones and we have bindings that connect layers. It is a complicated way of thinking and we are in dialogue with the machine.
Vera de Pont: This research continues our work we did in 2019 for an exhibition at Lafayette Anticipations. At a point, Hella posed the question: can it be more than just an extrusion? And then we dove more into the idea of weaving in multiple directions. This way you can create more internally complex structures instead of it being just a skin.
Sander Manse: What is the difference between this method and what you call an extrusion?
Jos Klarenbeek: An extrusion is a stacking of layers that produces a volume. For instance, when you 3D-print something, you can draw a plan and extrude that, so you build up a 3D shape adding layer upon layer. But we don’t want to just stack. With weaving, you can play with the directions in which you are going.
Sander Manse: I see many variations and iterations of multiaxial weaving. What are you trying to optimise?
Jos Klarenbeek: These are the result of a creative process, there is no real purpose yet. We call them “pliable architecture” and it is about building constructions. Now we want to integrate solar cells and try to create modules or structures that can be interconnected.
Laura Fügmann: It’s also about making something that uses very little material but has a lot of volume. To use less material is always more sustainable.
Sander Manse: The inherent strength and flexibility of the material is interesting. Could you change the nature or texture of an object along with its construction?
Vera de Pont: Yes, if you make a construction in three dimensions and you weave more densely or more open, that inherently changes the character of the piece. Theoretically, you could make a character shift in one material through binding and construction – similar to what happens in knitting – which I think is very interesting. The type of binding that you use also determines the strength of the textile piece. The denser the yarns are, the stiffer and less transparent the piece becomes, also because of the bindings. If you weave in a 3D-grid you can do this gradually.
Sarah Meyers: Currently we use one type of warp for all the samples we make. In a later process, we can optimise this and look into one piece and determine a warp that matches the intent of the piece.
Jos Klarenbeek: We are still very open; we explore the possibilities with this material. Just trying things out with what we are able to do here with our team and with the machine.
Sander Manse: What are sources of inspiration in this project: industry, nature, mathematics, materials?
Laura Fügmann: The method itself inspired us. When samples come off the loom, they are wobbly and flat, but as soon as you fold open the joints, they become so strong! In the beginning we thought we had to always add structural support, weaving in tubes or sticks, but now we realised that through folding it out and weaving elements in you can create an incredible stiffness. This really made our brains go wild. We started to think in joints: where can we add a line of stability?
Sarah Meyers: The possibilities are what inspired us. This is not just a skin, but a structure in itself that doesn’t need reinforcements.
Vera de Pont: When we were talking about constructions and how intricate they are, I thought about atom arrangements, crystal structures, also aligned in a grid with multiple axes. Just similar ways of thinking, but coming from different disciplines. The human body, for example, is all fibres that are interwoven, pointing into certain directions.
Sander Manse: It has a biological quality to it.
Vera de Pont: It feels like it has grown this way instead of being built this way.
Jos Klarenbeek: For me the mathematical side of it is very interesting. You have to tell a digital loom what to do, program it. You have to think in multiple layers, and design a black and white matrix that determines the bindings. Things become very complicated if you want different things to happen for example on the front or back of a piece.
Laura Fügmann: Yes, it’s all engineered. Every thread has a purpose. I think it is also possible to combine the ways in which samples fold open. Now we fold it either in warp or weft direction, but it might be possible to do both. It’s the logical next step for these samples we’re working on now. Then I think we could weave even three dimensional checkerboard patterns.
Vera de Pont: We really started to think about multiple directions – getting off the flatbed of the loom.
Laura Fügmann: If we would scale up something like this, and work on the intersections, we could take it to another level.
Sarah Meyers: Yes, from soft to stiff, something that is textile into something that can stand up by itself. By weaving you give strength to a yarn.
Sander Manse: Could you tell me more about the solar strips?
Jos Klarenbeek: We are working with laminated plastic strips with embedded solar cells. Solar panels are always flat, stiff objects. But what if you can weave 3D shapes with solar stripes? We’re also thinking about having the solar cells power something, like movement, perhaps moving with the sun, or opening up.
Laura Fügmann: It could warm up the textile, or light up, trigger a ventilation or a propellor, it could even charge your phone.
Sarah Meyers: We also talked about powering as part of Woven Cosmos, but that’s very ambitious. There’s conductive yarn that we could use to connect the sources of power through the structure.
Where I would normally stop, someone else takes it further. It is very fluent
Sander Manse: I like how this work alters our concept of textile, of weaving. Textiles always enfold something; they are always a passive skin. But here textile has agency. By unfolding, standing up by itself, and by embedding a power source in the material, you almost create something that feels autonomous and alive.
Laura Fügmann: We follow the quality of the material itself. Some pieces will hang off the wall. Some are going to stand.
Jos Klarenbeek: It’s all a surprise. It always turns out differently than what we expected.
Laura Fügmann: In the beginning I thought of the “bricks” as objects that are standing or lying. Then suddenly Hella came in and started hanging them. Of course, when there is solar energy involved it’s nice if they can hang in front of a window.
Sander Manse: How does your work on this project, and within this team, differ from the work you do as an individual designer?
Vera de Pont: We ping-pong, pass ideas back and forth. I think that we’re all here for a specific reason, but we figure that out while we work here. We all have our own specialities and we work together very well. If I think about my own work, I don’t have this ping-pong, and I realised having it actually makes the work a lot stronger. Where I would normally stop, someone else takes it further. It is very fluent. It makes it richer.
Jos Klarenbeek: I think it works very well when the process is really fluent. You know exactly at the right moment when to give something away. I accept that I work in a different handwriting and this can be liberating.
Laura Fügmann: When I work for Hella I find it really nice that we are really set free to explore. We’re at the birth of ideas.
Sarah Meyers: For our own work, we cover many departments, but here everyone is one specific department, and you can grow stronger.
Sander Manse: And how does Hella Jongerius direct this process? How would you describe her approach and your collaboration?
Jos Klarenbeek: Working with Hella, you have a lot of freedom on the one hand, and responsibility on the other.
Laura Fügmann: You always have to stay open for new discoveries. There is real synergy between her directions and our work as a team. She is really good at taking decisions at the right time and pointing out new paths to take.
Sarah Meyers: It’s always surprising to see where we go.
Jos Klarenbeek: Hella has a good eye for seeing what your capabilities are. Even if you’re not aware of it yourself.
Sander Manse: When I worked with Hella Jongerius, I found it interesting to work with someone who has worked on so many projects, for so many clients, with a big archive. She might pull something off the shelf that was done years ago, because some topics in her work have been there for a very long time. In a way everything is current, and she brings this into the process. It requires you to be open and not be too protective of the thing you’re working on.
Laura Fügmann: She’s really good at pulling a team together that is able to generate a surprising result, she likes to surprise herself. In my own practice I have trouble giving people assignments where I do not know the result. This level of trust is quite special.
Sarah Meyers: Hella makes sure she has a toolbox, and we are some of the tools. She might know much better what we can do, better than us. We produce options, by making things.
Vera de Pont: Because we are working on an exhibition, which includes the element of time pressure, it is important that you actually produce the things you think about. Otherwise, it is hard to communicate. .
Jos Klarenbeek: Hella only reacts to something that is there. She does not want to talk about what is not there.
Laura Fügmann: Just an idea is nothing.
Jos Klarenbeek: The good part is if you don’t manage to get certain results, but you end up somewhere else, she reacts to this instead. It’s about the conversation.