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The Challenge
Textile company asks Parsons students to reinvent wallcoverings.
The origami-like design allows for the wallcovering to assume multiple shapes.
Courtesy Parsons The New School of Design

Fold, fill, or weave were the marching orders given to students at Parsons’ School of Constructed Environments. The students were armed with Xorel, a woven polyethylene fabric from Carnegie Fabrics that has the textured appearance and malleability of fabric but is as tough, stain resistant, and durable as a plastic. The company engaged the students to design soft structures made from the tech fabric for the firm’s booth at this year’s International Contemporary Furniture Fair (ICFF) at the Javits Center. Faculty member and architect Granger Moorhead and his brother, industrial designer Robert Moorhead, came up with the exercise for the class in temporary structures.

Granger Moorhead asked the students to break out into teams focused on folding, filling, or weaving. The installation had to be experiential so that visitors to the booth could walk through, under, or beside the design. The folding and weaving teams quickly attracted students, while filling took on just two. Carnegie staff and Parsons faculty weighed in on which submission would work best at ICFF.

A student works on an early prototype at Parsons.

The weaving group used a paper-backed version of Xorel to create dozens of wide fabric loops bound together at two points. The voluminous waves were striking in mock-up photos and watercolor studies, but jumping from the plan to the Javits Center would be a bit of stretch—too precarious and precious for the duration of the show. Next.

The filling group of two took durability into serious consideration, drawing inspiration from bags usually found on construction sites as tieback weights. The group used an unbacked version of the fabric to create glorified tiebacks held together with industrial grommets. The result was amusing and inviting to the touch, but the stacking method might not meet the exacting design sensibilities at ICFF. Nice try.

The folding group walked away with a winning design based on an origami approach. They also used a paper-backed version of Xorel. Usually used for wall covering, the paper-back structure facilitated precise origami cuts to create pyramid-like shapes with extended tabs at the base of each plane. The tabs were then attached to each other, giving designers freedom to create larger compositions. When joined together, the forms evolved into cloudlike shapes, with several pyramids scaled up for variety. “It’s very poetic and a simple building block,” said Granger Moorhead.

With formal issues decided, the students went on to explore a new process created by Carnegie that allows for digital printing on the paper backing the fabric. Since the woven polyethylene surface is translucent, any printed pattern underneath shows through. To go even more baroque, the polyethylene surface itself can be textured with a jacquard pattern. The students chose to plainly mark the design onto the paper, as in a blueprint, actuating the fold marks through a translucent Jacquard. “You look and you see it’s digitally printed,” said Carnegie’s executive VP Heather Bush. “But then you say, ‘Hey, what’s going on here?’”

At press time the students were still at work tinkering with composition. Granger Moorhead said that the design has moved away from its cloud origins into something more treelike that visitors can walk beneath. “It’s interesting that they ended up using the paper-back, because what they have done is as far away as you can get from wallpaper.” Mission accomplished.

Tom Stoelker