UCLA professor of architecture uses 3D printing in avant-garde fashion designs

This article was updated on June 3 at 6:20 p.m.

Julia Koerner said she sees the human body as a smaller version of a building – fashion wraps the body much like a facade covers a work of architecture.

UCLA’s assistant assistant professor of architecture said fashion offered him a way to explore his architectural research on a smaller scale. She said that fashion design provides a more immediate translation of the model on release, as opposed to architecture, as it occurs on a much smaller scale.

“Whatever I experience on a smaller scale in fashion design, I’m looking at how I can possibly translate that into a building facade,” Koerner said. “I use it almost like a scale model.”

Koerner said his design process incorporates a variety of digital technologies, including 3D printing and prototyping software, used to conduct research. One of her first pieces was on display in Paris, where she worked with designer Iris van Herpen to create a hard resin dress. Because the dress was like a hard shell printed in a particular size, they had to find a model that would be able to fit the exact measurements of the dress after it was printed. Since then, Koerner has explored more flexible rubbery materials in his recent work.

“You can use recycled plastics and you can use filaments from water bottles to power 3D printers,” Koerner said. “So there’s an entirely sustainable aspect: you can melt your old sweatshirt and 3D print a new one from the plastic you’ve melted. “

Koerner said that 3D printing of fashion pieces is an additive manufacturing process, which means the material is only used when needed. Usually, clothes have to be split into several parts before they are stitched together, often resulting in wasted material, she said. With 3D printing, the clothes do not require seams and the end product comes out in one piece, so less waste is generated. 3D printing can also help create sustainable fashion by creating durable and recyclable products, reducing the number of clothes thrown away, she said.

Koerner was able to incorporate her 3D printed fashion into the costume design for the movie “Black Panther”, for which she worked on the headdress and shoulder of Queen Ramonda. Using 3D printing technology, Koerner said she tried to mimic the intricately woven pattern of traditional African headdresses and epaulets. Ruth E. Carter, the film’s costume designer, said she gave Koerner African lace, which she scanned into a computer to create 3D models.

Carter said she saw Koerner’s work with van Herpen at a fashion show and was intrigued by the wearable art they created. Because Wakanda is described as a nation with cutting edge technology, Carter said she believes the innovative design process will work well for the film.

“In the world of clothing, we work with the shape of the body. … (The headdress and shoulder) were creating a piece of sculpture that could actually add to the structure of the body shape, ”Carter said.

Using technological advances for design is also part of UCLA’s architecture curriculum, said Greg Lynn, professor of architecture. In the program, Lynn said they focus on having students learn to communicate with machines in order to make things, instead of the more traditional route of working with structural engineers to figure out which parts are physically achievable. Using digital technology and prototyping to design buildings allows students to translate their designs into building parts without an engineer, Lynn said.

Although Koerner’s work on fashion is distinct from her teaching in architecture, she still manages to integrate her research into both, for example by studying trendy materials that could potentially be used in building design.

“(3D printing has) many implications for the future,” Koerner said. “You can design objects and clothes that have an aesthetic that cannot be produced with any other method.”


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