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Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin - Matters of Activity. Image Space Material


The Cluster of Excellence Matters of Activity is currently hiring outstanding researchers and designers.

The project Weaving especially encourages applications by:

  • Candidates with a PhD in Molecular Biology and with experiences in the analysis of genomes and in cloning and mutating bacterial genes. Further qualification in fluorescence and/or electron microscopy is an advantage.
  • Candidates with a completed academic education and/or PhD in Architecture, Design, Geometry or Engineering with experiences in material driven design and/or a strong understanding of geometric modeling and structural principles. Further qualification in architectural and/or textile construction, fibrous structures and/or computational geometry are an advantage.


This project will explore various perspectives on the dynamic dimensions of weaving. Biological materials will be used as an inspiration for design and a new material culture, while macroscopic material experimentation will inform hypotheses of biological function. Amorphous polymers (which are nothing other than entangled fibrous macromolecules) and textiles are known to be deformable, but can simultaneously resist certain loads: as flexible as a textile bag might be, it can still carry heavy loads. These properties are controlled by the fiber architecture. Similarly, tissue growth and the shape changes of biological materials are connected to the underlying fiber architectures that are able to reorient themselves, but are also remodeled. The constellation of expertise within the project, which encompasses anthropology, cultural history, biology, design, materials science, and mathematics, will enable a comprehensive reimagining of the art of weaving as a combined result of fiber activity and cultural practice.
Three experimental settings will enable a deeper exploration of particular forms of weaving, such as biological, architectural, or clothing textiles, thereby allowing us to elucidate the relationship between weaving, material, and activity:

The setting Woven Architectures in Microbial Biofilms will advance our understanding of the superstructure and mechanical properties of the elastic extracellular matrix, a self-assembling “fabric” from cellulose and amyloid curli fibers, and shed light on the interplay between genetics and environmental microconditions that controls the spatial assembly of its woven architecture. Experimental approaches will include, inter alia, molecular and synthetic biology, advanced microscopy, mathematical and genealogical modeling and analysis.

Starting from the relationship between shape, material, and function at the microscale of biological materials, which is a key area of interest in the Cluster, the setting Biological Weavings in Architectural Design proposes to upscale these ideas to an architectural scale. The project will explore weaving and textiles as a constructive and design approach in architecture based on Semper’s idea of textiles as a spatial enclosure. We will investigate the idea of softness and flexibility in architecture, focusing on scaffolds as a feature essential to architecture and emphasizing the process of architectural construction in parallel to its result. Examined from the perspective of symmetry and experimental geometric construction, the systematic enumeration of potential structures and analysis of the physical mechanisms within them will enable a more targeted approach to the idea of shaping surfaces in architectural design.

The properties and functions of textile artifacts result from the permanent refinement of "manufacturing" practices and the materials that they are made of. Therefore, the setting Textile Culture and Weave Characterization will analyze the extent to which this process-related interdependence of practices, materials, properties, and functions is continuous or occurs through sudden leaps in complexity (dimensional, organizational, technological, or medial). We will build bridges between scientific projects and artisanal or technical practices: What is the relationship between the artificial "accumulations" and natural tissues? How can a spider’s web or our skin be related to woven artifacts produced in social and technical spheres? Traditional categories such as "artificiality" and "plasticity", but also "self-assembly" and "construction", will be reexamined, redefined, and incorporated into design processes.

Principal Investigators: Evans (Mathematics), Fratzl (Materials Science), Hengge (Biology), Macdonald (Social Anthropology), Polthier (Mathematics), Ribault (Gestaltung), Sauer (Architecture & Design), Schäffner (Cultural History & Theory), Thümmler (Art History), Vogl (Literary Studies)