Universal Materiality: Collaborative Design for Aging and Disability

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The body is a canvas for personal expression through clothing. For people who need partial or full assistance donning and doffing clothing, their self-expression may fall to the wayside in favor of their level of functionality or need to maintain range of motion or avoid injuring in all phases of engaging with their clothing.

Open Style Lab’s February exhibit Universal Materiality: Collaborative Design for Aging and Disability at the Parsons School of Design displayed clothing solutions created during our Summer 2018 program for a population that was both aging and disabled. While the client-partners’ physical and cognitive abilities differed, aging and disability did not take away who they are as people. the common thread they shared was wanting clothing that supported greater independence and reflected their style and identity.

The sartorial solutions were set against a stark white space punctuated with the question “How Do You Get Dressed?” Seven clothing designs for and with long term rehab residents at The Riverside Premier Rehabilitation and Healing Center (NYC). Each garment was developed with residents to live a more independent and expressive lifestyle. Stylish silhouettes, 3d-printed buttons, and body scanning technology were all used to augment the design process. Smart textiles like 3d-printed fabrics were applied to clothing designs to assist caregivers and elderly at the rehab with easier dressing. This material application demonstrates how wearable technologies can promote healthier living and to raise awareness of how inclusively designed clothing enables greater innovation. Clients movements were also simulated through open-sourced body scanning apps and generated into digital patterns. This enabled our fellows to generate ideas and test design prototypes while preserving the clients’ energy levels.

Image 2: Seated Figure with surrounding grip tape

Image 2: Seated Figure with surrounding grip tape

Image 3: Hunched Figure with surrounding grip tape

Image 3: Hunched Figure with surrounding grip tape

In collaboration with award-winning architecture firm, Eray / Carbajo, the seven laser-cut plexi-glass body-forms represented the clients’ body postures including, seated, hunched, and standing. Each posture represented levels of assistance in dressing for the elderly residents at Riverside Rehab. Each form was dressed in the garments made with the seniors and was designed for easy assembly.

The exhibit not only showcased garments for disabled users, but was an inclusive gallery experience for all visitors. For example, the height of the stands that held the textiles or fabrics were measured to take into account the vantage point of wheelchair users. Each form was framed with grip tape (Images 2 &3) that signaled haptic feedback for visitors with strollers, wheelchairs, and other assistive devices. With consulting and analysis from OSL’s members with disabilities, the design of the space was carefully measured and rendered using 3D- CAD programs (Image 4) for the best accessible composition. Finally, the typography and graphics were designed to enhance the spatial experience (Image 5).

Image: OSL’s Kieran Kern at opening night event greeting Parsons Faculty.

Image: OSL’s Kieran Kern at opening night event greeting Parsons Faculty.

Image 4: Construction collaboration

Image 4: Construction collaboration

Image 4: Eray/ Carbajo

Image 4: Eray/ Carbajo

Inclusion is having a spot at the table requires more than a ramp. It takes the recognition and acceptance that no matter a person’s age nor ability, that their life has value, importance, and impact. Open Style Lab’s exhibit Universal Materiality: Collaborative Design for Aging and Disability showcased the collaborative solutions that granted the clients greater ease and independence while celebrating who they are as people.  

Image 5: Design by Wooksang Kwon

Image 5: Design by Wooksang Kwon

Online Information on the Parsons and OSL collaboration: https://parsons.edu/openstylelab/research/exhibition/

Summer Program 2018 - PBS: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4OJzhC_rFDM





Written by Kieran Kern, supported by Peter Trojic