AMSTERDAM – With the recent release of Knowledge Matters, UNStudio has opened up the processes of the firm’s approach to a wider audience. Here, we focus on one project that covers a different type of architecture: the digitally-fabricated shoe UNX2. In the book, constituent parts of UNStudio’s numerous in-house Knowledge Platforms are outlined in detail. The ‘smart parameters platform’ is a mediation between rapid developments in computational techniques and the evolving disciplinary concerns of architecture. This mediation is given focus through the firm’s belief that architecture is inherently relational, and that computational tools provide one way of measuring, observing and inventing the relations that shape it.
Thinking ‘beyond the parametric’ untethers associations of parametric approaches from both a dependency on specific software platforms and preoccupations with geometry in isolation. Instead, parameters themselves are proxies of a value system to measure the resolution and conceptual clarity of the project. Earlier UNStudio projects approximated the flexibility of parametric processes via the diagram. In this instance, the concept or ‘thought’ model became the basis for the diagram which acted as a measure and reference point for the project development. In latter projects, the process of a thought model has been adopted – setting up the parametric towards more sophisticated ends using four central parametric approaches: smart modelling, geometric optimisation, analysis of environmental performance and, lastly, digital fabrication – which is what is focused on in this article.
This area fosters new understandings of the relationship between digital modelling possibilities and material output. Considered together, these strategies confidently find correlations between design intent and measurable variables, without making facile claims of achieving a close-looped denouement. Considering the future role of parametric thinking, UNStudio anticipates the tools that enable parametric processes becoming more intuitive, enabling more complex combinations of parameters to inform project development in more accessible ways – the parametric will be literally understood as a knowledge tool.
The studio’s interest in digital fabrication is directed toward an alignment and understanding between industries. The formal complexity offered by digital modelling software must be in closer dialogue with emergent modes of fabrication in order to extend the repertoire of formal and material solutions. Projects are featured in the book as examples that advance this discussion through scales, ranging from footwear to infrastructure. The project UNX2 was a collaboration to create a shoe for United Nude, where the foot was dressed in such a way that its form is partially visible. This strategy highlights the mechanics of the foot while producing unique visual effects when the shoe is in motion. When the wearer is still, the curve of the foot can be glimpsed between the curving vertical ribbons that are suggestive of the dynamics of movement. However, once the wearer begins to move, shifting levels of transparency are created though the vertical lines that create a staccato rhythm reminiscent of early stop-motion photography. The UNX2 shoe creates patterns of movement and produces a dynamic form of image making through motion.
The kinetic movement of the human foot can be expressed through eight specific seam lines that define the geometric curvature in elevation, and 15 seam lines defining the profile in plan. This observation became the basis for the parametric model allowing all future design options to reference this inherent logic of the foot’s complex movement. A unique workflow was developed which centred on instantaneous live update changes, surface curvature analysis, panel type rationalisation, material optimisation and software integration across multiple platforms. This resultant model based on the foot’s geometric principles can be updated to reflect shoe size, heel height, formal shape and patterning with a keystroke. Once the parameters of the base geometry are established parametrically the basic form can be altered to fit the design constraints given by a fabricator or the method of production. In this case, 3D printing as the chosen fabrication technique informed shell thickness and the prescribed angles that must remain consistent while the rest of the shoe scales in multiple directions.