robotic needle felting
Courtesy Ng

Tsz Yan Ng is Pushing the Boundaries of Material Innovation

Developed with support from the University of Michigan’s Taubman College of Architecture and Urban Planning, Robotic Needle Felting is a novel additive manufacturing technique for nonwoven textiles.

The University of Michigan’s Taubman College has long served as a laboratory for experimentation in material technology, engineering, and design. (Eliel Saarinen, Gunnar Birkerts, and, in more recent times, T+E+A+M are among the architects who have called the university home.) So it should come as no surprise that Tsz Yan Ng, founder of her eponymous firm and associate professor of architecture at Taubman College, is pushing the boundaries of material innovation from Chicago to Guangdong. 

Ng’s firm, founded nearly two decades ago, has consistently sought to reexamine time- and labor-intensive fabrication and construction techniques, and through that approach it aims to establish new modes of design and material assemblies. That approach was partially informed by Ng’s upbringing: Her parents were involved in the garment business and, as a result, were both familiar with large-scale manufacturing processes, as well as their shortcomings in both efficiency and flexibility of form. 

robotic needle felted object
Courtesy Ng

Funded with support from Taubman College and the University of Michigan Office of Research, Ng’s Robotic Needle Felting project is a logical culmination of her upbringing and explores a novel manufacturing technique to fabricate nonwoven textiles. “The Robotic Needle Felting project is about changing our relationship to the material, in this case textiles,” says Ng. “Through the additive manufacturing process, the nonwoven textiles are layered, enabling complex geometries and coverage without loose excess material.” The absence of glue or threads allows for the components to be fabricated, and assembled, as homogeneous wholes of exceptional depth. The textiles may be used for a range of purposes, from thermal insulation to acoustic panels. 

Ng’s firm was recognized as a 2022 Emerging Voice by the Architectural League of New York. She says, “My interest in rethinking construction is how different fabrication technologies, of specific techniques paired with material performance, can present new design opportunities, new assemblies, and ultimately new ways to interact with our built world.” 

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