Pratt Explores Soft Construction with Shima Seiki at the BF+DA

annie coogan 4

“Two Minutes” created by Brett Simon, Alexandra Hitchinson, Siddi Vivek Damle and Kelly Van Bomel. Inspired by the sculpture of Ruth Asawa. Students devised an experience for walking close to a complex shape. The morphing conical sits in the center of a black knitted cylinder. Students were fascinated with the phenomenon that one can read the forms of the white materials through the black knitted. One can walk into the cylinder and experience the illuminated conical that changes color in two minute intervals.

When Annie Coggan, Pratt Institute’s Adjunct Professor of Interior Design sat down with the Brooklyn Fashion+Design Accelerator’s Knitwear Director Kelly Puertas, they understood there was a mission: to create a knitted room. Annie’s vision? To transform a Pratt classroom with “soft construction” in the final week of spring classes.

Instigated by Anita Cooney, Dean of the School of Design at Pratt Institute, the two women worked together with Coggan’s “Soft Construction Lab” and 11 graduate design students from Pratt who participated in the project. The class’s objective was to design and fabricate a knitted room that utilized the BF+DA’s Shima Seiki knitting machines to create a room that was both habitable and sensuous.

“Hard Construction is thought of as drywall, wood, steel-traditional building materials. Soft Construction is a term I coined to illustrate that as interior designers we work in both worlds; the built environment is composed of both hard and soft. We at Pratt are lucky enough to invent in both worlds,” says Coggan

annie coogan 3

“BK Bedouin” created by Bitsy Mayhle, Charlie Cornelius, Janna Burrows. Fascinated with varying densities and transparencies that the Shima was capable of, this knitted room became a study in understanding opacities. The students manipulated three layers of pattern starting with the outer layer being the most opaque, then the knitted layer changed in scale and density. The experience inside the room is to mirror a Bedouin tent where the outside is planer and humble and the inside in filled with visual complexities and surprises. (Image: Annie Coggan)

Coggan describes the “advent of cushions, drapery, and accompanying filigree” arrived on the interiors scene during the Victorian Age, “when the middle class embraced the simultaneous idea of consumption and comfort.”

“The role of furniture and rooms changed from social protocol to leisure. Interiors lined with soft constructions – drapery, pillows, and tapestry was the way a room expressed protection against the outside world, and were vessels of memory and meaning which illustrated the inhabitant’s biography. Modernism dismissed this dense layer of narrative in favor of clean lines and diminished cushioning. An economy of means occupied rooms, furniture was of the room – floors became chairs, soft walls became floors,” says Coggan.

annie coogan5

“Headspace” created by Kelsey Paul, Tulika Lokapur, Chen Doug, Nikhitha Velagapudi. A maze for your head, inspired by the intricacies and variations in pattern that the Shima could produce. The students created an experience of concentrating on these patterns while walking. (Image: Annie Coggan)

She says operating with this history in mind helped further the idea of soft construction to a contemporary end in conjunction with Puertas and the Shima Seiki knitting machines at the BF+DA.

According to Coggan, the difference between utilizing modern tools like the Shima machines versus tools during the Victorian age
is that a huge expanse of knitted fabric can be made within a two hour time frame.

“This is a long time for fashion, sweaters, and dresses but no time for the building industry,” adds Coggan.

Puertas says most of the large panels took two hours to knit and used around 1.5 lb of yarn.

“The ones we enjoyed most were the cookie cutter shape like the lamp shape. It was our first time using short row knitting to make a cone shape and once we had the size down it flew off the machine in 20 minutes. It was very satisfying!”

pratt shima student 1

Debera Johnson, the Executive Director of the BF+DA and faculty in Pratt’s Industrial Design program is dedicated to linking the resources of the Accelerator’s production lab with Pratt’s academic programs. “Our goal is to give Pratt students access to manufacturing equipment and let them innovate new forms. It will go well beyond apparel,” says Johnson. “When I first saw the knitting machines I thought furniture, architecture and fine art.”

Having worked closely with fashion designers who regularly come to Puertas with knit ideas, this was the first time she ventured into this type of construction. Puertas says she has never worked on a project this large and that up until the Pratt class, the biggest quantity she worked on was completing a 200-300 hat and scarf production order for one of the BF+DA’s Venture Fellows and an run of 80 sweaters for another Venture Fellow.

pratt shima student 2

“This project was really unique.” says Puertas. “Annie and I are excited to come up with a template to keep this class going using the knitting machines,” she adds.

Coggan agrees. “We are already conspiring to make it better and more interesting for the spring. One of the most valuable things that working with Kelly taught the students is that fabricators have timelines and schedules that must be met. I am very excited to be working with the BF+DA in the spring!”

Images: Annie Coggan