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Tactility Factory – Textiles and Concrete for Architecture

Tactility Factory Ecobuild 2012 Tactility Factory’s interest in concrete sapiens and textiles ludens, or the fusion of thinking and playing, involves the co-forming of the soft and hard surfaces of textiles and concrete in a binary practice of architectural design and a craft approach to textile design and pattern making. Tactility Factory’s (TF) ambition is to ‘mainstream tactility in the built environment’ through a hybrid technical and artisan process – merging the indigenous properties of textiles – velvet, linen, lace, and embroidery with the material of precast concrete.

The history of concrete as a creative architectural surface includes Frank Lloyd Wright’s Ennis House, 1924, which incorporated textile block designs inspired by Mayan architectural reliefs; Auguste Perret, 1874-1954, used historical typologies in the material, while his one-time pupil Le Corbusier encouraged a global architectural concrete industry with the Unité d’Habitation,1952, in Marseilles.

TF was established in 2005 by Trish Belford and Ruth Morrow, and is informed by their respective backgrounds in fashion and architecture. TF’s driving interest is to blend the skills and materials, cultures and technologies of textiles and architecture to create a more human and tactile architectural surface through the manipulation of colour and pattern in raw concrete. Their development of the macho cliché of Le Corbusian béton-brut, and wood-imprinted concrete, through the innovative fusion of concrete-knowledge-technology and textile-culture-exploration is motivated by a concern to ‘make hard things soft’. Something they describe as the ‘Ooh!-Ouch!’ experience.

This mélange of traditional hand-and-eye methods of textile design in the studio workshop is fused with R&D incorporating digital technologies and concrete prototyping and development in the TF Lab. Over 50% of TF processes are carried out through digital imaging and manufacturing. TF construct their own textiles specifically for use in concrete, with a tolerance for shrinkage, and yarns are tested for their ability to withstand the alkaline concrete environment. The workshop manufactures individual precast concrete moulds that permanently embed textiles onto the surface of concrete. The 10-mm thick surface panels or concrete and textile ‘skins’ create friezes, panels and tiles, as curved or folded wall reliefs or freestanding columns. These can be created as unique designs to suit a context, concept or colour scheme. ‘Bespoke’ or ‘branded’ individual patterned surfaces and designs can be created in the workshop without the need for complex moulds or post-curing processes. They are also exploring the potential for outsourcing large-scale production, with lace manufacturers Morton, Young and Borland Ltd in Scotland, and Swiss textile manufacturer Josef Schlaepfer.

TF James Street South TF Derry PlayhouseTactility Factory produces a range of four Crystal Concrete surfaces – Velvet, Crystal, Linen, and Stitched Linen. The designs, with titles such as Veronese and Damask, are drawn from architectural and textile references, such as historic building detail; and re-workings of iconic textile designs and motifs. These include Augustus Pugin’s designs from 1850, re-conceptualised in collaboration with the textile firm, Watts of Westminster; and the ‘shadow tissues’ in the Turnbull and Stockdale textile design archive dating from the 1920s and 1930s. Commissions for site-specific private, public and commercial interiors include an installation Stitch for Derry, a 7.5-metre folded panel for Derry Playhouse (2009) that incorporated decorative elements of cornices and plasterwork, leaves and flowers in door fanlights, and stars from a fireplace from the converted building, a Victorian Mercy Convent School. The floral architectural motifs were recreated with silver and gold leaf and crimson yarns in linen weave embedded into the concrete. James Street South Bar + Grill, Belfast (2011), commissioned panels of a Velvet Concrete design ‘Broken Stripe (Orange)’ which created an acoustically soft environment. At Ecobuild 2012, TF presented a 6m-high velvet concrete tower as part of the Cool Concrete feature by Lafarge, and their work is at the Lafarge-Tarmac Stand for Ecobuild 2013.

TF Velvet concrete 2012 Tactility Factory - crocus flowering in april TF Crystal concrete TF velvet concrete Samples 100x100mm 2012 Tactility Factory: Trish Belford & Ruth Morrow

Trish Belford is Senior Research Fellow, at the Art and Design Research Institute at the University of Ulster. Her textile company Belford Prints, London employed 30 people and supplied textiles to high-end fashion market clients such as Vivienne Westwood and Jasper Conran.  Ruth Morrow is Professor of Architecture at Queen’s University Belfast, and has worked in architectural practices in the UK, Ireland and Germany.

Tactility Factory has developed an entrepreneurial, creative and collaborative research practice that incorporates academia, design and industry and spans textile, craft, design, interior and architecture. TF is supported by the Creative Industries Innovation Fund, in the development of a BIG Textiles/BIG Elements project, to research larger textiles. This has allowed them to test larger scale prototypes with Craftstone, a precast manufacturer in Northern Ireland. TF was selected as one of Northern Ireland’s “key companies within the architectural design sector” to be part of the Museum of the Here and Now at the Northern Ireland Science Park. TF’s velvet concrete samples are included in Material Connexion’s Active Mattter Programme – with samples sent to designers and specifiers to illustrate the ‘current state of materials innovation’. TF have been featured in a range of media including Concrete Quarterly and Crafts, and exhibited at Ecobuild, Material Lab, and Architect at Work (France).

Images: ©Tactility Factory

Ecobuild, 2012
James Street South Bar + Grill, Belfast, 2011
Stitch for Derry, a 7.5-metre folded panel, Derry Playhouse, 2009
Velvet Concrete, 2012
Velvet Concrete: Crocus Flowering in April
Crystal Concrete
Crystal concrete (Samples)


Tactility Factory Images: http://pinterest.com/tactility/tactility-factory-surfaces/

About jeh

Jeremy Hunt is Director of the AAJ Press (Art & Architecture Journal / Press) – a writer and consultant on art and public space



  1. Pingback: Tactility Factory – Textiles and Concrete for Architecture | jess.the.weaver - February 21, 2013

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