recentpopularlog in

robertogreco : synthetics   2

How textiles revolutionised technology – Virginia Postrel – Aeon
"Older than bronze and as new as nanowires, textiles are technology — and they have remade our world time and again"

"In February 1939, Vogue ran a major feature on the fashions of the future. Inspired by the soon-to-open New York World’s Fair, the magazine asked nine industrial designers to imagine what the people of ‘a far Tomorrow’ might wear and why. (The editors deemed fashion designers too of-the-moment for such speculations.) A mock‑up of each outfit was manufactured and photographed for a lavish nine-page colour spread.

You might have seen some of the results online: an evening dress with a see-through net top and strategically placed swirls of gold braid, for instance, or a baggy men’s jumpsuit with a utility belt and halo antenna. Bloggers periodically rediscover a British newsreel of models demonstrating the outfits while a campy narrator (‘Oh, swish!’) makes laboured jokes. The silly get‑ups are always good for self-satisfied smirks. What dopes those old-time prognosticators were!

The ridicule is unfair. Anticipating climate-controlled interiors, greater nudity, more athleticism, more travel and simpler wardrobes, the designers actually got a lot of trends right. Besides, the mock‑ups don’t reveal what really made the predicted fashions futuristic. Looking only at the pictures, you can’t detect the most prominent technological theme.

‘The important improvements and innovations in clothes for the World of Tomorrow will be in the fabrics themselves,’ declared Raymond Loewy, one of the Vogue contributors. His fellow visionaries agreed. Every single one talked about textile advances. Many of their designs specified yet-to-be-invented materials that could adjust to temperature, change colour or be crushed into suitcases without wrinkling. Without exception, everyone foretelling the ‘World of Tomorrow’ believed that an exciting future meant innovative new fabrics.

They all understood something we’ve largely forgotten: that textiles are technology, more ancient than bronze and as contemporary as nanowires. We hairless apes co-evolved with our apparel. But, to reverse Arthur C Clarke’s adage, any sufficiently familiar technology is indistinguishable from nature. It seems intuitive, obvious – so woven into the fabric of our lives that we take it for granted.

We drag out heirloom metaphors – ‘on tenterhooks’, ‘tow-headed’, ‘frazzled’ – with no idea that we’re talking about fabric and fibres. We repeat threadbare clichés: ‘whole cloth’, ‘hanging by a thread’, ‘dyed in the wool’. We catch airline shuttles, weave through traffic, follow comment threads. We talk of lifespans and spin‑offs and never wonder why drawing out fibres and twirling them into thread looms so large in our language."



"As late as the 1970s, textiles still enjoyed the aura of science. Since then, however, we’ve stopped thinking of them as a technical achievement. In today’s popular imagination, fabric entirely belongs to the frivolous world of fashion. Even in the pages of Vogue, ‘wearable technology’ means electronic gadgets awkwardly tricked out as accessories, not the soft stuff you wear against your skin – no matter how much brainpower went into producing it. When we imagine economic progress, we no longer think about cloth, or even the machines that make it.

This cultural amnesia has multiple causes. The rise of computers and software as the very definition of ‘high technology’ eclipsed other industries. Intense global competition drove down prices of fibres and fabric, making textiles and apparel a less noticeable part of household budgets, and turning textile makers into unglamorous, commodity businesses. Environmental campaigns made synthetic a synonym for toxic. And for the first time in human history, generations of women across the developed world grew up without learning the needle arts."



"Textiles illustrate a more general point about technology. The more advanced a field is, the more blasé we are about its latest upgrades. Success breeds indifference. We still expect Moore’s Law to hold, but we no longer get excited about the latest microprocessor. The public has largely forgotten the silicon in Silicon Valley.

New and improved fabric technologies haven’t attracted public enthusiasm since the backlash against leisure suits and disco shirts made synthetics declassé in the early 1980s. ‘Pity poor polyester. People pick on it,’ wrote The Wall Street Journal’s Ronald Alsop in 1982, describing DuPont’s efforts to rehabilitate the fibre’s image.

What ended the consumer hatred of polyester wasn’t a marketing campaign. It was a quiet series of technical innovations: the development of microfibres. These are synthetics, most often polyester or nylon, that are thinner than silk and incredibly soft, as well as lightweight, strong, washable and quick-drying. Their shapes can be engineered to control how water vapour and heat pass through the fabric or to create microcapsules to add sunscreen, antimicrobial agents or insect repellent. Over the past decade, microfibres have become ubiquitous; they’re found in everything from wickable workout wear to supersoft plush toys.

Microfibres are one reason the ‘air-conditioned’ fabrics Loewy and his fellow designers foresaw in 1939 have finally come to pass. These fabrics just aren’t promoted in the pages of Vogue or highlighted on the racks at Banana Republic. They don’t attract attention during New York Fashion Week. Their tribe gathers instead at the big Outdoor Retailer trade shows held twice a year in Salt Lake City. There, outdoor-apparel makers and their suppliers tout textiles that keep wearers warm in the cold and cool in the heat; that block raindrops but allow sweat to escape; that repel insects, screen out UV rays and control odour. By establishing that truly weather-resistant fabrics were possible, Gore-Tex (first sold in 1976) and Polartec synthetic fleece (1979) created an industry where engineers now vie to find ever-better ways to conquer the elements. For instance, ‘smart textiles’ originally developed for spacesuits use microencapsulated materials that melt when they get hot, keeping wearers comfortable by absorbing body heat; when temperatures fall, the materials solidify and warm the body."



"Reducing textiles to their functional properties misses much of their appeal, however. They’ve always been decorative as well, a source of sensory pleasure going all the way back to the sexy string skirts worn by Stone Age women. That’s why dyes have been so important in the history of chemistry and trade.

In our computer-centric era, the pursuit of beautiful textiles has naturally turned to information technology. Over the past decade, inkjet printing on fabric has taken off. Instead of requiring a separate plate for each colour, digital printing registers the entire design at once. So for the first time, designers can use as many colours, and as varied patterns, as they choose. Although it currently accounts for less than 5 per cent of printed fabrics, digital printing has already changed the way clothes look. It’s the technology driving the colourful prints so prominent in recent women’s fashion, as well as the crowdsourced design sites Threadless and Spoonflower.

The customers who’ve embraced those designs don’t think much about what makes them possible. But the very invisibility of textiles testifies to their power. We think of them as natural. The instinct behind ‘wearable technology’ is sound, even if the products so far are awkward. ‘Imagine a textile structured from a blend of different fibres which each function as component within a circuit, for example, battery fibres, solar fibres and antenna fibres,’ writes the US fashion technologist Amanda Parkes in an op-ed for the website Business of Fashion. ‘The material itself becomes a self-sustaining “textile circuit” that has its own power and interactive capabilities, but the embedded technology is essentially invisible.’

If the goal is to shrink the distance between nature and artifice, us and it, no technology is as powerful as fabric. Intimate and essential, it touches every moment of our lives. It is among the greatest products of human artifice. Yet it is also an extension of our skin."
textiles  glvo  virginiapostrel  history  clothing  crafts  culture  technology  2015  wearables  materials  industrialrevolution  fashion  craft  dyes  machines  printing  science  adamsmith  raymondloewy  arthurcclarke  dupont  synthetics  fabrics  fabric  elizabethbarber  williampetty  davidorban  josephmariejacquard  weaving  looms  knitting  spinning  craigmuldrew  jameshargreaves  richardarkwright  beverlylemire  samuelcrompton  1939  vogue  microfibres  gore-tex  polartec  ministryofsupply  mizzenandmain  yicui  materialsscience  threadless  spoonflower  amandaparkes  future  making  cv 
june 2015 by robertogreco
Workalong: Critical Design / Design Fiction lecture finally written up. (loooooong)
[A very thorough catalog of "design fiction" examples]

"So futures. Design fiction, critical design, speculative design and all that stuff tends to be based in the future, or a futures, or futures. Why? Because it's a fertile playground and fair game. We're open to the suggestion of future images. It's how advertising works. It's evocative, it compounds hopes and fears and it's malleable. Most work isn't about the future, it's about now, but you can explode the now into the future to make it much more visible and understandable.

The archetypal quote. [WILLIAM GIBSON] This is one of the cornerstones of futures work. Somewhere, someone else has your future, and right now, your iPhone is someone else's future.We have to understand there's no kind of absolute rule for 'the' future. There is no 'the' future. There's just a bubbling and propagating mess of technologies and hopes and fears that sometimes arrange themselves into 'a' future.

So this is kind of where you aim at when thinking about the future. This is the futures cone, another one of those tools or symbols that comes up and over and over again. Uncertainty tells us that the future opens up to possibilities. The Google Glass future vision sits in that green preferable part but is unlikely to happen. Where it becomes interesting is exploring some of those wild cards that sit right on the outside. You lend that perspective to people and you can blow their minds. 'Hey there's this new technology and they say it'll do this, but what if it did this instead.'"



"Right, so this is the end and I want to leave you with some questions that I don't have answers to, having seen all of that stuff.

First up, 'Yes, but is it art?' Most of the projects I showed end up in a gallery. They're not sold in shops or made into real products, so how is this not art? There are cleverer people than I that could answer that question. I believe on some fundamental level that it's design because it uses the language of design to try and attract an audience. Because like I said earlier, it rearranges existing phenomena we can understand to give them new meaning and because it's for other people, not for the creator.

Secondly 'What if? ... Then what?' Critical design poses difficult questions and forces us to confront them, but then what? Once we have the questions and we have the provocation how do we deal with it, individually and societally? I don't know, I'm trying to figure that out.

'How do you measure success?' A question that is coming up more and more. You can measure the success of a normal design project by it's kickstarter funding or by units sold, but here we're not selling units or launching startups, we're trying to get people to deal with difficult things so how do you measure if that works? Well, there's a good spread of projects that get a lot of media attention so I guess that's a success, but is it enough?"
tobiasrevell  designfiction  speculativefiction  criticaldesign  design  futurism  2013  fionaraby  hertziantales  robots  superstudio  williamgibson  bigdog  saschapohflepp  goldeninstitute  power  normalcy  venkateshrao  anabjain  superflux  nickfoster  brucesterling  stanleykubrick  childrenofmen  diegetics  diegeticdesign  davidkirby  revitalcohen  prophecyprogram  stanleymilgram  phillippronnenburg  jamesbridle  berg  berglondon  littleprinter  newaesthetic  liamyoung  vincentfournier  josephpopper  larissasansour  peckhamouterspaceinitiative  cristinademiddel  hefinjones  welshspaceprogram  materials  3dprinting  markuskayser  thomasthwaites  toasterproject  jeremyhutchinson  cohenvanbalen  stelarc  choykafai  sputniko  agathahaines  unnaturalhistory  aihasegawa  synthetics  georgetremmel  shihofukuhara  art  canon  davidbenque  geopolitics  yosukeushigome  zoepapadopoulou  stacktivism  julianoliver  dunne&raby  anthonydunne  posthumanism 
december 2013 by robertogreco

Copy this bookmark:





to read