Launch Slideshow

Zip-Tie Tek: The Ties that Bind

By paying attention to his instincts, Ammar Eloueini now stands among the leaders of the digital design revolution, testing the limits of form and training the next generation of software-savvy designers.

Zip-Tie Tek: The Ties that Bind

By paying attention to his instincts, Ammar Eloueini now stands among the leaders of the digital design revolution, testing the limits of form and training the next generation of software-savvy designers.

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    Pleats Please, Issey Miyake, Berlin - Eloueini typically starts a design with animation software such as Softimage. Once the complex surface is resolved, he imports the drawing into Pepakura, an inexpensive software that flattens the complex surface and numbers the pieces. From there, the drawings are taken into AutoCAD, or a similar program, to complete the data for the CNC (computer numerically controlled) milling machine. The drawings shown here document the 17 polycarbonate panels, each 2 feet by 8 feet, used in the Berlin showroom.

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    Pleats Please, Issey Miyake, Berlin - Tenant restrictions at the Galeries Lafayette prohibited attaching fixtures to the floor. So, as this assembly drawing shows, the screen was designed to attach to the wall and simply rest on the floor. The polycarbonate surface, once assembled, gives the piece its stability.

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    Pleats Please, Issey Miyake, Berlin - The wedge-shaped space is a product of the building’s circular form. This floor plan shows clothing racks and a table, in addition to the biomorphic screen and its supporting ribs.

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    Jay Zukerkorn

    Pleats Please, Issey Miyake, Berlin - After the milling process, individual sections were laid out on the factory floor. For high-end projects such as the Miyake showrooms, Eloueini favors a 12mm-thick panel for its strength and structural rigidity.

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    Pleats Please, Issey Miyake, Berlin - Structural ribs for the wall and frames for the table and racks were cut from 50-inch-by-100-inch sheets of half-inch aluminum plate. This photograph shows the remains of one aluminum panel after pieces have been cut on an abrasive waterjet cutting machine.

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    Pleats Please, Issey Miyake, Berlin - To test its accuracy, the full-scale piece was assembled in a Chicago factory before being shipped to Germany. Here, a section of the wall begins to take on its final shape as the zip-ties are threaded and tightened.

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    Pleats Please, Issey Miyake, Berlin - Eloueini chose to have the interior elements fabricated in Chicago because the schedule was critical and he was familiar with the team there. The piece was mocked up in full scale before being disassembled and shipped flat. The lightweight material and zip-tie fasteners make for a system that is easy to transport and quick to assemble.

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    Pleats Please, Issey Miyake, Berlin - After final installation, the faceted wall blends reflections from the room and filtered light from behind. The effect is multiplied by the addition of Miyake’s clothes. Zip-ties also attach the polycarbonate to the frame.

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    California: Stage set for John Jasperse - The 25-foot-long set, suspended from overhead rigging, consisted of a three-dimensional canopy that hovered and dipped over the stage.

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    California: Stage set for John Jasperse - Eloueini conceived of the set as a surface that morphs, allowing for various interactions with the dancers. Here, the parts simulate kites.

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    California: Stage set for John Jasperse - This detail drawing of the polycarbonate material shows the result after routing. One surface of the sheet remains intact to act as a hinge.

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    California: Stage set for John Jasperse - When dismantled, the entire set fit into two 4-foot-by-4-foot boxes that traveled with the dance company.

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    California: Stage set for John Jasperse - Directions for the stage crew included this diagram showing how the scored and numbered pieces are combined to build the set.

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    Fashion Show, School of the Art Institute, Chicago - The fleeting use and large amount of material needed for the stage set prompted Eloueini to specify a less expensive polycarbonate.

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    Fashion Show, School of the Art Institute, Chicago - The fashion show occurred in a beaux-arts ballroom on Chicago’s Michigan Avenue. Eloueini wove the polycarbonate surfaces through an existing colonnade and lit them from behind.

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    Fashion Show, School of the Art Institute, Chicago - Eloueini used plywood for the structural ribs because it could be cut for a much lower cost on a CNC router, as opposed to the waterjet cutting machine required to cut aluminum.

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    Nubik, Grand Arts Gallery, Kansas City - At opening night festivities, a crowd gathered beneath the installation, which glowed in blue light.

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    Nubik, Grand Arts Gallery, Kansas City - At opening night festivities, a crowd gathered beneath the installation, which glowed in blue light.

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    Nubik, Grand Arts Gallery, Kansas City - Pods were assembled on the gallery floor prior to installation on the ceiling.

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    Nubik, Grand Arts Gallery, Kansas City - The design for the strands of podlike forms creates a dynamic pattern when flattened.

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    Mu Chair - This minimalist chair is designed for economy and ease of fabrication and assembly.

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    Mu Chair - After machining, the panel can be folded, connected with zip-ties, and assembled in minutes.

As associate professor at the Tulane University School of Architecture and founder of AEDS (Ammar Eloueini Digit-All Studio), Eloueini has created a platform for exploration of computer-aided design and its ability to produce space that, in his words, “engages human perception.” Projects ranging from animated stage sets to retail stores for fashion designer Issey Miyake have given him real-world experience at a scale that fits the experimental nature of his work. “There's a technology aspect I'm interested in, but most of all it's about the physical experience of the results,” he explains.

Born in Lebanon and raised in Paris by parents who, 25 years ago, fled political tensions in the Middle East, Eloueini has been writing his own rules for architectural practice from day one. While enrolled at the Ecole d'Architecture in Paris, he came to the United States as an exchange student. Before returning to Paris, he toured American graduate schools from coast to coast. Columbia, in particular, caught his attention. “They were changing into what became the paperless studio,” he recalls with enthusiasm. “I didn't see anything remotely like it at the time. And I thought: ‘This is where I really want to be.' ”

The chance to learn from Greg Lynn and Hani Rashid at Columbia was invaluable. But when Eloueini completed the graduate program in 1996, he headed straight back to Paris, where he secured his architectural registration. He went to work setting up his own shop, borrowing the cash for a silicon graphics machine and newly developed animation software. Using these new design tools, he started entering competitions, teaching workshops, and speaking at conferences on digital design.

Eloueini officially launched AEDS in 1997 and began attracting attention for his work in widely published competitions such as the one for Wall Street's Cultural Information Exchange Center. That led to invitations to lecture in Italy, then to teach in Germany. Everything snowballed in 1998 and 1999, when he was hired to run the Digital Media Program at the University of Illinois at Chicago, then invited by Massimiliano Fuksas to work on the 2000 Venice Biennial, and soon afterward informed that he had received a grant from the French Ministry of Culture to fund an exhibition of his work.

The biggest break happened by chance. When Eloueini was installing his solo exhibit in a small Parisian gallery, Miyake passed by and stopped to take a closer look. “We started talking, and he asked about the work,” says Eloueini. “Then he asked me to send more information. This is how the whole adventure with Miyake began.” That adventure has led to three commissions for Miyake showrooms, the first one in Germany and two in France.

  • Ammar Eloueini - Age: 38 - Firm: Digit-All Studio - Education: Ecole d'Architecture, Paris; Columbia University
    Ammar Eloueini - Age: 38 - Firm: Digit-All Studio - Education: Ecole d'Architecture, Paris; Columbia University

While they differ functionally, the retail shop and the other works illustrated here share many attributes. Similar in scale, budget, materials, and fabrication techniques, they constitute a family of solutions that emerged from the focused research on polycarbonate panel construction that Eloueini has pursued since 2001, when he received the Nouveaux Albums des Jeunes Architectes, the French Institute of Architects' top award for architects under 35. Yet in spite of all the high-tech gymnastics that make these multifaceted installations possible, Eloueini's biggest stroke of genius may be the low-tech means he uses to assemble them: the humble zip-tie. Without it, his three-dimensional creations would all fall flat.

Project: Pleats Please, Issey Miyake, Berlin

Eloueini's first collaboration with fashion designer Issey Miyake was for a retail space in the Galeries Lafayette, a building by Jean Nouvel. Working within the confines of a wedge-shaped space, Eloueini envisioned an installation at the back of the store that would take its cues from Miyake's pleated designs, but consist of something other than the product line. “It's this folding surface that relates to Miyake's work,” Eloueini explains. “The polycarbonate refracts light. So the idea was to have all the clothes—many in flashy colors—reflect in the surface.” The wall's complex shape transforms light, color, and shadow into an ever-changing geometric curiosity. Some of the space behind the screen is used for storage, and some as a fitting room. Moving figures behind the translucent material lend a sense of theater to the shop, which opened in December 2004.

Project: California: Stage Set For John Jasperse

Eloueini designed the set for California, a dance production created by choreographer John Jasperse. After premiering in Cannes, France, in November 2003, the dance company began an international tour. Eloueini's task was to design a set that would pass through customs quickly and easily; it had to be small and light enough to fit into two containers the size of a suitcase. Because the set is secured by zip-ties, it can be erected in hours and easily dismantled and packed, ready to be taken to the next performance venue.