Selected properties of the skin were translated into a textiles vocabulary by identifying a range of textile-related technologies. In order to do this, the functions of human skin tissue were examined from the perspective of a textile designer to develop different responsive and active concepts. These included :
- exploration of the potential of textiles as latent heating systems to control room temperature (the analogy of skin being a thermo-regulator);
- examination of the thermochromic properties of textiles as indicators of fluctuating conditions in the interior (the analogy used is that of human skin reactions to physical and psychological stimuli – skin as sensor and biochemical mechanism);
- investigation of the interactive and decorative potential of thermochromic and touch-sensitive surfaces to exploit transient skin images and patterns (the analogy used is skin as a sensor). and
- exploration of the olfactory and filtering potential of textiles as deodorising, antimicrobial and curative surfaces (analogy – skin as immunological surveillance and biochemical mechanism).
Subsequently the entire research project was divided into three main themes :
- Memory & Identity (where skin was looked at as a complex genetic and social display)
- Protection & Comfort (where skin was examined as barrier and exchange mechanism for comfort)
- Sensorium & Communicator (where skin was investigated as responsive, interactive and multi-functional membrane).
Our skin‘s naturally interactive and multi-functional “technology” has informed this biomimetic design research by suggesting means by which the initial biological information might best be interpreted. For example, sensory information from the outer world gathered by the skin is sent to the brain in the form of electric impulses. This biological mechanism suggested the use of electric current as the main stimulus for certain processes to take place and to corroborate the interactivity of the new textile membranes. Therefore electronic systems were incorporated in some of the work as discussed later.
Sensory Textile Wall
“Touch Me Wallpaper” (figs. 2a, 2b) is an interactive sensory-appeal wall-covering prototype where touch triggers visual responses. The wallpaper responds to human heat by changing colour – people can interact with it by leaving their temporary body prints on the surface treated with thermochromic inks. The polysensual wallpaper concept carries the idea of skin as a sensor and receptor, display and communicator. Some versions of the “Touch Me Wallpaper” release various aromatherapeutic fragrances, when triggered by hand. In this case the olfactory and filtering potential of textiles as deodorising, anti-microbial and curative systems is explored referring to skin as an immunological surveillance and biochemical mechanism.
Microencapsulation technology, used in this work, permits the incorporation of aromatic oils into textile substrates to enhance the environment by releasing scent. The olfaction can, to various degrees, help people to reduce stress, enhance relationships and help heal their bodies and minds. The concept of integrating scents in buildings is not new – for centuries Arabs were using fragrances as a component in the mortar for certain mosques.
The response from the audience to this work was particularly positive. People liked to interact with the textile wall by experiencing the scent, leaving their handprints and observing how they slowly disappear from the surface like shadows. The idea of touching things that we usually do not touch and having unexpected sensory experiences was found to be interesting and capable of adding an extra value to our everyday surroundings.