One of the most fascinating pieces in the current design exhibition This Is for Everyone: Design Experiments for the Common Good is a pretty dress with a classically feminine silhouette that wouldn’t look out of place at a fashionable cocktail party. But take a closer look at its supple but strangely undulating texture, and you’ll find that this frock is like no garment you have ever seen—because it was created with a printer.
The dress, which is printed flat in 3-D, was born from the revolutionary Kinematics program, a system that creates complex, foldable forms composed of articulated modules. This method provides a way to use 3-D printing to turn any three-dimensional shape into a structure that is so flexible and fluid that it can be worn on the body.
Kinematics is the brainchild of design-studio-cum-science-lab Nervous System, which was founded in 2007 by Creative Director Jessica Rosenkrantz and Chief Science Officer Jesse Louis-Rosenberg. The duo collaborates very closely. “We butt into each other’s specialties a lot,” says Jessica, ”We’re both very critical and we often disagree. But when we do agree on something, we know that it’s good.”
The two met while studying at MIT (Jessica holds degrees in architecture and biology, Jesse majored in mathematics) and initially got together because they shared an interest in creating tools to generate architecture. “But we soon realized that we’d never actually see these buildings being made,” says Jessica, “So we decided to make products that people could have.”
The models they had generated reminded them of jewelry, so they created some 3-D generated pieces and received a great response. “Jewelry is something that has a special meaning to people, it’s like a wearable sculpture,” says Jessica.
The Kinematics project started in the summer of 2013, when Nervous System was hired by Google and Motorola to create 3-D printing generators for the “Make with Moto” campaign, an initiative wherein Motorola drove a van filled with digital fabrication tools across the country.“They wanted to enable people to customize and hack their cell phones. We developed three apps for them that leveraged the tools in the van and let people design their own accessories that were then fabricated in under an hour,” says Jessica. With such a short manufacturing window, the pieces had to be printed flat. That limited the process to very simple shapes, like a watchband, that could easily transform from flat sheet into a wearable piece. However, when the project was over, Jessica and Jesse started thinking about using their system to create more complex forms. After about a year’s work, the Kinematics Dress was born.
Eventually, the goal is to create apps that allow consumers to make their own clothing. “In the future, we will be able to 3-D print any object in any material in any shape,” says Jessica. “That will allow for clothing that is very, very customized.” But their experiments are not limited to wearable designs. Nervous System is also working towards creating simple 3-D printing methods for furniture. “We’re interested in computerizing the entire manufacturing process,” says Jessica, “We’re still in the very beginning, but we envision a future where people end up using their skill and creativity to create an end product that is completely accessible and affordable.”
In the meantime, you can buy a finished piece of jewelry from the Kinematics collection, whose structure mimics that of the dress in the exhibition, through the MoMA Stores.