Feb 14, 2022

Constructive Conversations 02/14/2022 – Architecture and Orchids: Agency in Spatial Techtonics

Architecture and Orchids: Agency in Spatial Techtonics – Lecture by Jean Alsquist at Constructive Conversations

Architecture should be oriented to the needs and abilities of the users

People are different, they have different needs, abilities, they express themselves differently and use spaces differently, perceive them differently. And so that everyone can find their way around, and even develop, architecture should be oriented towards the needs and abilities of its users.


What is Sean Ahlquist's work about?

Jean Ahlquist bases the design of his architectural structures on his daughter, a non-verbal autistic who perceives the world through haptic interaction and communicates in this way. With his soft colorful knitted structures, he tries to create spaces that allow people like his daughter to communicate and be creative in their own way.

He describes trying to put himself in his daughter's shoes with the feeling he had at the beginning of the first Corona lockdown: the private spaces were not really suitable for any activity, not for working, not for taking care of the children all day, not for meeting friends. This feeling of not fitting into an environment is the basis of his drive to want to understand those people who, for example, have different needs due to a disability and consequently needed different, not "normal" spaces.

After all, accessibility means more than just being able to drive through a room in a wheelchair. For example, in a stadium, cheering over a goal can mean that the crowd jumping up obscures the view for wheelchair users. This is a fact that is often not sufficiently taken into account in architectural design.


About OrchidsPlayscape

His extensive study of communication and participation led him to create three-dimensional knitted objects interspersed with tubes, inviting visitors to climb, enriched with light and color installations. The OrchidsPlayscape installation was exhibited at Lincoln Center's Big Umbrella Festival in New York City in 2021. The art festival features works for young audiences with autism.

The textile object OrchidsPlayscape is a three-dimensional knitted fabric produced on industrial computer-controlled knitting machines. The production was preceded by material research such as an examination of yarn production, considerations of stretchability, color, texture and tactile quality. The textile invites tactile exploration of the architectural object, the object can be used like a climbing scaffold, it responds to pressure with its stretchy walls, it gives way and swings back, it encourages interactivity.

More about OrchidsPlayscape


Image © Taubman College

Installation of OrchidsPlayscape

About Sean Ahlquist

Sean Ahlquist is an Associate Professor of Architecture at the University of Michigan – Taubman College of Architecture and Urban Planning, directs the Lab for Socio-material Architectures, and is part of the Cluster in Computational Media and Interactive Systems which connects architecture with the fields of material science, computer science, and performing arts technology. Research explores the relationship between novel material constructions, sensory-responsive environments and social behavior for communities with a wide spectrum of physical and cognitive abilities. Ahlquist addresses architecture’s pressing need to leverage computational design towards generating truly inclusionary spaces. Ahlquist is the current director of the Master of Science in Digital Material Technologies. He teaches across the range of academic programs at the college of architecture, currently involving students in a multi-year collaboration with the Ann Arbor Center for Independent Living. Works have been installed at a range of sites, including children’s museums, classrooms and therapy centers, the 2021 Venice Architecture Biennale, the Big Umbrella Festival at Lincoln Center in New York City and the upcoming Common Senses Festival in Omaha, Nebraska in Spring 2022.


Sean Ahlquist gave his lecture "Architecture and Orchids: Agency in Spatial Techtonics" on Feb. 14, 2022 as part of the Constructive Conversations event series at the Cluster of Excellence IntCDC. More about Constructive Conversations...

Constructive Conversations

Info und registration

Admission: free of charge

Registration: required

Venue: Kurhaus Menzenschwand, Winterhalterweg 1, 79837 St. Blasien

Language: German

Please note: Please bring sturdy shoes and warm clothing for the guided forest walk.

The event has been submitted to the Baden-Württemberg Chamber of Architects for consideration for recognition for continuing education and training.

We will record and publish the event in audio and video for documentation, reporting and evaluation purposes, including on websites and social media. With your registration you agree to this use.

Arrival by car: Free parking is available at the Kurhaus. We recommend that you carpool, as the free parking spaces may not be sufficient.

Arrival by public transport: From Freiburg, take the S1 line to the Aha train station. A bus shuttle can be arranged there if needed. Please indicate your need when registering. We will then get in touch with you.



Cluster of Excellence Integrative Computational Design and Construction for Architecture (IntCDC).
The University of Stuttgart established its new Cluster of Excellence on Integrative Computational Design and Construction for Architecture in 2019. With an initial funding period of seven years, a Cluster of Excellence is the most significant and substantial grant awarded by the German Research Foundation (DFG). For the very first time, a Cluster of Excellence has been awarded to the field of Architecture. It will contribute to establishing an internationally visible research center.

About Zentrum Holzbau Schwarzwald

About Zentrum Holzbau Schwarzwald

As a center for innovation and knowledge transfer, the ZHS will bundle regional competencies in the fields of timber construction, forestry, architecture, design, interior design and promote the exchange between research and practice. The practice will be brought together with research institutions and universities to advance timber construction and thus make an important contribution to CO2 savings. It is also about the question of what the forest will look like in the future in times of climate change and how it can guarantee the supply of raw materials. Contacts have already been made with universities in forestry, construction planning and architecture. Regional initiatives such as Naturpark Südschwarzwald, the Black Forest Biosphere Reserve, Klimapartner Oberrhein and many others have also been actively involved in the development of the ZHS. The Forest Research Institute Freiburg has helped to develop the project from the very beginning.

A separate non-profit limited liability company (GmbH) was founded to support the project. Shareholders are the companies Baur WohnFaszination, GUTEX, Holzbau Bruno Kaiser, Holzwarth, Lignotrend and Rothmund Leimholz, the Berufsförderungswerk der Südbadischen Bauwirtschaft, the Verein Bauwerk Schwarzwald, the Sparkasse St. Blasien, the city of St. Blasien and the district of Waldshut.

The use of wood has a long tradition in the Black Forest. Some of the most innovative companies in the industry have their headquarters in the Waldshut district. The focus of the ZHS is on children, pupils and students with their teachers, but also on all companies, craftsmen and craftswomen who deal with the subject of wood. Especially they shall benefit from the offers of the ZHS. An extensive range of further training courses will take the knowledge "into the field".

Contact: Stefan Kudermann, Managing Director Zentrum Holzbau Schwarzwald

Exzellenzcluster Integrative Computational Design and Construction for Architecture (IntCDC) – Die Zukunft der Architektur und des Bauwesens gestalten durch wirklich integrative computergestützte Planung und Konstruktion.