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ABBY ZAPLAN 638164 Semester 2/2013 Virtual Environments Group 11

Module 4 _Reflection Student Journal

module 1 _IDEATION

Introduction to material system

In this module, I was initially assigned with an inflatable armband, which fell under the inflate material system.

I was required to familiarize myself with the object – its material system in particular – by exploring the inflatable in terms of its form, structure and dimensions.

module 1 _IDEATION

The reading ‘300 years of industrial design’ (Heath et. al., 2000) gave an interesting insight and emphasis on the importance of measured drawings. Heath (2000) expresses how measuring an object in detail is important in terms of getting an idea of how the object might have been constructed and the reasons behind its design.


Image from Barnes and Noble 2013

‘Inside Rhinoceros’ outlined the three main types of 3D computer models and some key functions of Rhino.

Image from Barnes and Noble 2013

These two readings along with Miralles’ ‘How to lay out a croissant’ (1988/1991) – where it was demonstrated the possible logic behind the measuring process of an object – assisted me in understanding why we were required to do a measured drawing set of our object, how I would have to go about physically measuring and modelling the object digitally, and most importantly – how and why an inflatable armband worked as a material system.

Image from Word Press 2012

module 1 _IDEATION


In order to apply the knowledge I gained from the readings and tutorial tasks, I constructed a small sketch model imitating the inflate material system, using plastic table cloth and tape.

Deflated inflatable sketch model

Inflated inflatable sketch model

Seam of inflatable sketch model

From this activity I was forced to think about what material would be most suitable to prevent air escaping and I was able to develop my skills in creating seams. Furthermore I was able to see how air affected the movement and shape of the plastic model.

module 1 _IDEATION

Sommer’s (1969) ‘Personal space: the behavioural basis of design’, provided a great introduction to the idea of personal space – “an area with invisible boundaries surrounding a person’s body into which intruders may not come” (p 26). The reading also introduced the idea that “invisible boundaries” differed for each individual and how going into these boundaries results in varying reactions depending on the individual.

Personal space Taking inspiration from this reading and the inflatable armband, I produced some sketch designs for the second skin.

Image from Open Library 2008

From this process of generating ideas, it became a challenge to decide whether I wanted to protect the personal space of every aspect of the body or if I wanted to focus on a particular body part.

module 1 _IDEATION

module 2 _DESIGN

Collaboration of ideas

This module was the beginning of group work. I was assigned with another two students with whom I was also now to do the combined material system of inflate AND panel and fold.

Panel and fold image, Harriet Craig, 2013

My group began by first working in collaboration to come up with a starting design from which we can use to work on and develop from. Instead of looking at the whole human body, a group agreement was made to focus on the arm area in terms of creating a 2nd skin design.

Nerve endings on forearm, hand and fingertips. Image by Abbott Laboratories. 2010

Research was done on the hand and arm areas, and it was discovered that the hand was one of the most sensitive parts of the body (Oracle Education Foundation, 2013) – the forearm being the least sensitive and the fingertips highest in sensitivity (Abbott Laboratories, 2010). We developed our design based on these facts.

module 2 _DESIGN

Idea development

We proposed to have the base to be the inflatable component with the triangular spikes being the panel and fold component. Although at this point we were not sure how we would attach the spikes to the base without the use of tape.

Precedent examples. Unknown Date.

Sketch model of initial design. Photo by Harriet Craig, 2013.

module 2 _DESIGN

Here we also focused greatly on precedent examples relevant to our material system and further developed and refined our unique idea of personal space.

Challenging conventions Taking advice from Lecture number 4, Thomas Heatherwick’s video and taking inspiration from the precedents, we experimented with swapping the material systems of the base and spikes to try something a little different.

Thomas Heatherwick. Image from Wookmark, 2013.

Rhino model from different views

First prototype. Three photos by Yingli Liu, 2013.

However this did not work out too well. Our first prototype was not as successful as we wanted it to be for we learnt that the paper we were proposing to use was too stiff and looked quite awkward when worn. It also impeded movement on the arm.

module 1 _IDEATION

Further development

We tried, as a group, various times to experiement with the two material systems and how we would use them together. We even attempted to separate the material systems into sections. While this was a form of development it still did not feel like it was the right design. Not only did this design stray away from the our original idea of the spatial variation of sensitivity and how it relates to a need for personal space in the forearm or hand areas, it also did not seem realistic to construct consdering the panel and fold was paper and the inflateable, plastic.

module 2 _DESIGN

Uniting material systems

In an attempt to combine our material systems into one, (instead of looking at them as two sepearate components), we developed a new design which made the base and the spikes both made of plastic and both capable of inflating.

Rhino model from different views

Prototype of first model integrating both systems as one

module 2 _DESIGN


Materiality During this module we experimented with a different types of plastic.As we further developed our second skin , the first type of different plastic that we used to make our prototype with was book cover plastic. Previously we were using black table cover plastic to construct our prototypes which is opaque and quite flimsy.

Tape being used to make seams in the prototype

We found that using clear plastic for a change better enhances our idea of personal space as it is supposedly “invisible� but very much still there.

Book covering plastic used for prototype

The clear plastic allowed the lower arm and hand to also be fully covered which fully fulfills the protection of the hand, as we had been proposing from the very start. Our initial design only sat above the hand and not around it therefore not granting full safety. The use of the clear plastic allows the hand to be seen symbolizing its vulnerability - but showing that if one comes too close or touches it unapprovingly, that there is a defense mechanism.


Tools In replacement of the clear tape that we used before to make the seams of the inflatable prototypes, we ultimately resorted to using a soldering iron instead.

Soldering iron producing a clean -cut edge

We found that even though the tape was clear - and therefore blends in with the book covering plastic - using the Soldering iron saves a lot of time and produces more professional and neat looking seams.

Soldetring iron being used to seal an edge


The Making Process Iwamoto’s ‘Digital fabrications: architectural and material techniques’, extesively highlights the different uses of digital technology in turning a design into a fabrication.

Although Iwamoto mentions different processes which bring convenience to a designer when it comes to its physical construction due to technology, comparing it to how my group has to fabricate our design, it has made me realize that technology can only be relied on to on an extent.

In our case where the shape of our design is prone to change due to potential movement caused by incoming and outgoing air and the material we’re using, we can not really tell if the design that we have constructed digitally will look like what we physically have to create ourselves. Digital fabrications: architectural and material techniques. Image from Urban A&O, 2009.


Prototype development Each week we tried a different plastic to see if it would better lead an aeathetically as well as functionally successful inflatable system.

Rhino models of developed design

After trying book covering plastic, we found that it was too rigid and therefore the prototype already looks “inflated� to begin with without yet any air flow.

Prototype worn in context

We wanted to demonstrate movement in our second skin design. Therefore we searched for a less rigid clear plastic.


Prototype using book covering plastic

Materiality The next type of plastic we used for prototyping was clear cellophane.

Cellophane for prototyping

With this material, we found that it was too fragile and easily ripped. When air was blown inside the prototype we had to be careful not to put too much air in or else it might have burst. The cellophane was also prone to holes especially at the seams where the soldering iron had sealed the edges together. Prototype made using prototype

We once again went and looked for a more suitable plastic which was not as thick as book covering plastic but not as thin as cellophane.


Materiality/final fabrication

Ait source pointed into two plastic tubes

The last and final plastic we tried and used for our final fabrication was paint masking plastic.

Hand inserted inside second skin design

First we used paint masking plastic to also construct the tubes leading to the base where air would be blown through. However this presented issues in holes forming due to force of the air. To ensure that the tubes connected to the base would be strong, we used book covering plastic for these components of the second skin.

Prototype fabricated using paint masking plastic

Second skin fully worn


This was the most successful material for it was not too rigid nor was it or too flimsy.

module 4 _REFLECTION


Virtual Environments has been a challenging subject which has both taught me new things about designing and also new skills regarding the fabrication process of a design. Regarding the reading ‘Building the Future: Recasting Labor in Architecture’ (Bernstein et. al., 2008) my group and I can definitely serve as good examples of risk takers when it came to our second skin design project. Each week we would take the risk of changing our designs even though we may not know if it will work in real life. Furthermore, and especially in the testing of which material would best suit our physical model. Without knowing what would be the outcome, each week would still work hard in constructing our model and each week we would learn why one thing worked and another thing did not. Although my group went through many hardships in the development process of our design, it was a worhtwhile experience to learn together. Because with each failure, I knew that it was a step closer to success. It is indeed very evident in our final fabricated design. If one would compare the first prototype we had created to the final one we ended up with there are so many changes apparent. I used to be afraid of change when it came to design because there was a level of uncertainty and risk associated with it, and not to mention the time I thought I was wasting if i happened to develop the design into one that was worse after all. From Virtual Environements, I have learned that it’s okay to stray off for a while or even many times - because as long you have a will to improve your design, you would always be lead to a better path.

module 4 _REFLECTION

It is so easy when designing to just go with the conventional ideas because again, that is the safe way and you know you can not go wrong. I can recount during the semester when I watched a video by Thomas Heatherwick and was fascinated and was in awe at how different and innovative his ideas were. Ever since I watched that and through out the lectures where it has been reminded how I should not conform to a preconceived ideas of an object when it comes to designing, I have began to have a fresher view of what it means to design. Designing may to a certain degree imitate or simply extend what is previously made, but it’s mostly about doing something different and challenging. If it were not for this, there woulld be no innovation. Virtual environments has taught me how to think like a designer and how a designer should not be afraid to struggle. Working in groups for the project has really allowed me to develop my communication skills when it comes to getting tasks done and I hope to develop this in my future environments subjects and also, take with me the many valuable experiences, skills and lessons I’ve learnt while doing this subject.

module 4 _REFLECTION

References Abbott Laboratories. 2010. Why is Alternative Site Testing Less Painful? In: Alternative Site Testing. Available: url/content/en_CA/20.10.30:30/general_content/General_Content_0000321.htm. Accessed: August 21 2013. Building the Future: Recasting Labor in Architecture/ Philip Bernstein, Peggy Deamer. Princeton Architectural Press. c2008. pp 38-42 Barnes and Noble, 2013. Available: Accessed: November 4 2013. Barnes and Noble, 2013. Available: Accessed: November 4 2013. Cheng, R. (2008). Inside Rhinoceros 4 / Ron K.C. Cheng. Clifton Park, NY : Thomson/Delmar Learning, c2008. Digital fabrications: architectural and material techniques / Lisa Iwamoto. New York : Princeton Architectural Press, c2009. Enric Miralles,Carme Pinos, “How to lay out a croissant� El Croquis 49/50 Enric Miralles, Carme Pinos 1988/1991, En Construccion pp. 240-241 Heath, A., Heath, D., & Jensen, A. (2000). 300 years of industrial design : function, form, technique, 1700-2000 / Adrian Heath, Ditte Heath, Aage Lund Jensen. New York : Watson-Guptill, 2000. Open Library, 2008. Accessed: November 4 2013. Oracle Education Foundation. 2013. Sense-Sational Facts. In: Your sense of touch. Available: Accessed: August 21 2013. Precedent examples: Available: Authors are unknown. Accessed: August 27 2013. Urban A&O, 2009. Avaialble: Accessed: November 4 2012. Visual theme of Module 2: Facebook. Year unknown. Available: Accessed: August 21 2013. Sommer, R. (1969). Personal space : the behavioral basis of design / Robert Sommer. Englewood Cliffs, N.J. : Prentice-Hall, c1969. Wookmark, 2013. Available: Acessed: November 4 2013.

Final M4 Journal Submission  

Abigayle Zaplan 638164

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