Jenny Sabin: Architecture of Performance


myThread Pavilion, Nike Stadium NYC, Jenny Sabin 2012

Jenny Sabin has long been concerned with bio architecture, in particular, with the possibilities that science and technology bring us today in relation to the application of human body data to the generation of innovative material structures. In her ‘myThread Pavilion‘ project, developed for the Nike Flyknit Collective, Sabin applies biological data related to body movement, to the design of a lightweight knitted structure.

For most sports and fashion lovers, the latest developments in Nike shoes’ design are no news: knitted trainers that appear all too fragile at first glance. However, less apparent is the fact that the intricate knitted webs of these pieces of footwear form a complex structure able to fit performance. Jenny Sabin’s collaboration with Nike takes these ideas further into architecture’s experimental realm, by aiming to develop a material structure capable of responding to issues of performance and adaptation.


‘myThread Pavilion’ was developed within a 3D modelling environment, where geometry and material were generated from the manipulation of movement patterns identified within a sample of motion data. This sample was generated by a group of runners aided by Nike+ FuelBands, a technology able to track and gather information related to body movement. The result was a lightweight material construct that responded to a form-fitting question related to body performance.


myThread Pavilion, Nike Stadium NYC, Jenny Sabin 2012

Sabin’s research into the possibilities of bio architecture and performance of our own bodies to form-fit and enhance architecture, is further developed in her new ‘PolyThread pavilion’ -currently on view at the Cooper Hewitt, the Smithsonian Design Museum in New York City. This newly developed project, explains Sabin, integrates structure within the knitted fabric: each individually knitted element works in tension with a bending armature. This development within Sabin’s project allow for her research to be further tested into the built environment: “I can see this as a permanent large outdoor pavilion or structure that could operate well in a park or an outdoor environment”, says Sabin.

‘myThread’ and ‘PolyThread’ pavilions are exciting materialisations of a research process that join the larger architectural community research into knitted and fabric structures, another example being the work carried out by Achim Menges, such as for the ICD/ITKE Research Pavilion 2013-14. However, while in Menges’ work the performativity of knitted pieces is clearly defined -in structural terms in this case- in Sabin’s work this is an open matter. What kind of performativity human performance can generate for architecture? Sabin’s strength lies in her questions. Opening up channels of research Jenny Sabin’s work brings us to new ways of thinking, about the future and the discipline of architecture.


PolyThread Pavilion, Cooper Hewitt, the Smithsonian Design Museum NYC, Jenny Sabin 2016