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Smart Textiles

From MIT to Burning Man

The Living Knitwork Pavilion is an interactive architectural installation combining textile arts and engineering on a desert landscape.

19th October 2023

Innovation in Textiles
|Cambridge, MA, USA


Set against the vast and surreal backdrop of the Black Rock Desert in Nevada, Burning Man is an annual gathering that transforms the flat, barren expanse into a vibrant playground for artistic and creative expression. Here, ‘Burners’ come to both witness and contribute to the ephemeral Black Rock City, which participants build anew each year. With its myriad art installations and performances, Black Rock City is a temporary home for creative minds from around the world.

This year among the large-scale art stood the Living Knitwork Pavilion, an unusual architectural piece crafted from knitted textiles and a lattice network of wood. Developed and built by a team of researchers from the MIT Media Lab and MIT School of Architecture and Planning, and led by PhD student Irmandy Wicaksono, the installation received a 2023 Black Rock City Honorarium. For the team, it was a highly challenging and fulfilling project, full of learning and surprises. Seeing it emerge and illuminate in the middle of the desert was truly magical.

In the Living Knitwork Pavilion, twelve modular fabric panels, known as Knitwork petals, are connected through a central tower. The whole installation stood as a dodecagonal pyramid shade structure - 18 feet tall and 26 feet wide, resembling a teepee. The fabrics were developed using digital flat machine knitting technology and a collection of functional and common yarns, including photochromic, luminous, and conductive yarns.

© Irmandy Wicaksono |MIT Media Lab

Taking inspiration from the intricacy of textile patterns and temple carvings of Indonesia, Irmandy Wicaksono leveraged the tension between knitted polyester and spandex yarns to create textural textile patterns or reliefs. The fusion of parametric and hand-designed motifs transforms the Living Knitwork into a narrative artwork, reflecting both a reverence for ancient artistry and a vision of the future. These reliefs, full of symbols and illustrations, depict twelve stories of the future — from solarpunk cities and bio-machine interfaces to the deep ocean and space exploration.

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