Musical fabric and walls you can play with: Meet the student who wants to use interactive textiles to mimic Japan’s zen atmosphere in your office

Imagine finishing a stressful meeting and nipping off to a quiet corner of the office to stroke the walls and press the table so the serene sounds of a Japanese zen garden play…

This is what Alexandra Thompson, a Textiles Innovation and Design student, hopes will become commonplace in busy workspaces and she is developing products to make it a reality.

From fabric squares that stretch and open to reveal intricate origami-inspired designs, to a textile piece that is covered delicate grass-like fringing – Alexandra’s designs have your fingers itching to touch them.

A selection of Alexandra's designs.

A selection of Alexandra's designs. 

The third-year student has developed a collection of nine interactive textile samples that invite you to touch, pull, push and stretch them.

Alexandra’s products range from the static, where you simply pick them up and enjoy them, to quirky-textured items that she pictures being used to cover walls, furniture and other office structures to encourage people to touch and move them.

What makes Alexandra’s work particularly exciting, is that she is exploring using electronics in her designs to incorporate sound.

She has created a fully functioning product using conductive fabric and thread, supplied by Nottingham-based business Kitronik, that plays relaxing music when stretched and can even change the track when stretched for a second time.

Inspiration for the collection came after Alexandra visited Japan and attended an exhibition on the importance of play in London.

She explained: “I went to Japan for a summer school last year and it was amazing to experience their way of life.

“You can be in a really busy city yet turn the corner to find a huge temple where you can meditate.

“I thought it would be really nice to bring this element into western culture because we don’t really have that here.

“I decided to explore how textiles could be used in an office space so people can experience this calm.”

“I focused on interactive textiles that could onset a new experience through touch, sound, stretching, pulling and act as a stress relief method and a way for people to escape a busy lifestyle for a couple of minutes.”

Office design concepts by Alexandra.

Alexandra's office design concepts. 

She continued: “Being enclosed by fun and usual textures encourages adult play – which is already being brought into offices through activities such as Lego play as research suggests it can be beneficial and aid with things like adult communication – but in an unobvious way.

“I wanted to create pieces that are more visually pleasing to adults, that steer away from bright coloured toys, so people will want to play and engage with them.”

As well as hoping to instil a bit of calm in busy world, Alexandra hopes her work will break stereotypes around Textiles.

“There’s this huge misconception that Textiles is just about fashion and interiors, but there’s so much more”, she said.

“I hope my samples will invite people to understand it a bit more and be more open to learning about the great ways textiles can be used.”

Alexandra is working hard to further expand her collection and has turned her attention to how interactive textiles can be used on a larger scale and in more high-end buildings, such as hotels.

Her latest project – titled ‘Automative Interaction’ – gives an insight into this new venture and is available to view as part of the University’s Arts Degree Show.

The digital showcase and Alexandra’s offering can be found online here

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