This fellowship enabled me to dedicate two months solely to researching textiles as architectural materials. The time was a rare gift that allowed me to intensely explore Japan through the lens of my investigation unfettered by any other obligations. The funding from the SOM foundation also allowed me to meet with many talented people who were generous with their time and the knowledge they shared with me.
This isn’t to say, however, that I didn’t experience frustrations. I suspected from the onset that the format of my research (one that combined visiting sites with documenting conversations) would be more challenging to coordinate that simply visiting places and buildings. Still, this format required much more effort to orchestrate than even I had anticipated. In the year leading up to my actual travel dates I spent many hours tracking down contact information for the people I wanted to meet, writing to them, and then patiently waiting for a response.
I wrote over 40 customized letters to artists, architects, curators, textile designers and large corporations. While many of the people I contacted expressed interest in my research, far fewer were able to schedule a meeting with me. I found that scheduling meetings with large corporations, such as Gore, Dupont and the US Army, particularly challenging. These organizations were difficult to penetrate and reluctant to share any information about their products that wasn’t already widely available. In the end, I discovered that I could find all the technical data I needed from these companies on the Internet.
My most valuable resources throughout my research were the people who did respond enthusiastically to my interests. Many designers in Japan not only agreed to meet with me, but they also recommended other designers I should contact. I met more people through networking in Japan than I did by contacting them cold from the United States. Once I entered the web of designers in Tokyo one thing led to another with much more ease than I had anticipated.
I learned as much from the format of my research as I did from the topic itself. Conducting interviews was not a format with which I had previous experience. Learning through my mistakes, I eventually became more comfortable with the interviews in general and with Japanese etiquette for conversation in particular. I learned that the space allowed by silence in a conversation is often the best way to provoke someone to speak intelligently about his or her work.
In compiling my research into this final report and implementing it through the design of wall sections, I started to see architecture as a layering of materials with certain performance properties. Thinking about architecture in this way has opened my mind about how buildings are constructed and how materials are allocated.
Above all else my research has allowed me to break through a few boundaries separating various design professions. In addition to continuing my study of textiles as architecture, I hope to continue blurring disciplinary boundaries throughout my career. The most valuable aspect of my research was the experience of engaging talented people both within and outside the field of architecture and I hope that these dialogues have set the stage for future collaborations.