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Sean Ahlquist

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Sean Ahlquist is an Assistant Professor of Architecture at the Taubman College of Architecture and Urban Planning. He is a part of the Cluster in Computational Media and Interactive Systems which connects Architecture with the fields of Material Science, Computer Science, Art & Design and Music. Ahlquist teaches courses at all levels, including on-going involvement with the Master of Science in Material Systems program. Research and course topics are centered on material computation, developing articulated material structures and modes of design which enable the study of spatial behaviors and human interaction.

Ahlquist's research formulates computational design frameworks where materiality functions as an primary agent in the organization of architectural systems and their spatial tectonics. In particular, the research explores  and develops new technologies in highly articulated textile and composite materials. Research is developed through the use of a large-scale industrial CNC knitting machine. part of the FabLab at Taubman College.  This highly advanced manufacturing technology enables great depth of research into the composition of hybrid yarns, intermingling of knit structures, and shaping of seamless manifold forms. Ahlquist’s research agendas include the design and fabrication of pre-stressed lightweight structures, innovations in textile-reinforced composite materials for aerospace and automotive design, and development of tactile sensorial environments as interfaces for physical interaction. These intensely collaborative streams of research involve professors, students, researchers and professionals from a diverse array of fields. The materials-based research relating to textiles and textile-reinforced composites involves collaboration with Aerospace Engineering, Structural Engineering, and Material Science.  In the development of sensory-responsive environments addressing challenges which face children with autism, the interdisciplinary research involves Psychiatry, Kinesiology, Music, Art & Design, Information and Human Interaction, Computer Science and practitioners in the field of autism therapy.

This line of collaborative research was initially explored as a part of doctoral studies at the University of Stuttgart in the Institute for Computational Design (ICD). Ahlquist worked as a research associate at the ICD, exercising various aspects of his research through seminars and studios in the development of a range of prototypes from small installations to full-scale structures. Ahlquist holds a Master of Architecture degree from the Architectural Association in London, Emergent Design and Technologies Program. He has previously taught at the Academy of Art University, California College of the Arts and University of California – Berkeley, as well as led design workshops at various academic institutions in the US, Europe and Australia. Ahlquist continues to publish widely on the topic of computational design, including a reader entitled Computational Design Thinking, co-edited with Achim Menges, which collects and reflects upon seminal texts formulating a systems and material based approach to architecture and design methodologies.

Since joining the University of Michigan in 2012, Ahlquist has received the following grants: U-M International Institute – Experiential Learning Fund, U-M MCubed for initial research in pre-stressed knit-reinforced composites, U-M Research Through Making 2014 for the project Knit Architectures, U-M Research Through Making 2015 for the project Social Sensory Surfaces, U-M Office of Research Preliminary Research Funding for research in studying plant biomechanics, U-M Office of Research Shared Equipment Funding for purchase and training for STOLL CNC knitting machine, U-M Office of Research Preliminary Research funding for research in conductive pressure sensitive textiles, AIA-Upjohn Grant for research in morphable knit-reinforced composites, U-M Faculty Scholars Program in Integrative Medicine, U-M Transforming Learning for a Third Century Grant for curriculum related to the research of tactile interactive environments, and U-M MCubed for a pilot study in interactive textiles for children with autism.


MSc in Material Systems Blog


Materials Research With a Social Focus, ARCHITECT Magazine, 20 April 2016
Bikes and colors, Research News at University of Michigan, 20 April 2016
A touch of color: Engaging children with autism, Michigan News, 1 March 2016
University of Michigan Develops ‘Social Sensory Surfaces’ for Autism Therapy, Detroit NPR, 12 August 2015
Flexing Forms (Morphable Surfaces), ARCHITECT Magazine, 15 June 2015


Ahlquist, S.: 2016, Sensory Material Architectures: Concepts and Methodologies for Spatial Tectonics and Tactile Responsivity in Knitted Textile Hybrid Structures, International Journal for Architectural Computing, 14(1), pp 63-82.

Ahlquist, S.: 2016, Textile Environments and Tactile Interfaces: Responsive Multi-Sensory Architectures for Children with Autism Spectrum Disorder, AIA Academy of Architecture for Health Journal, Vol 18.

Ahlquist, S.: 2016, Integrating Differentiated Knit Logics and Pre-Stress in Textile Hybrid Structures, in: Thomsen, M., Tamke, M., Gengnagel, C., Faircloth, B., and Scheurer, F. (eds.) Modelling Behaviour: Proceeding of the Design Modelling Symposium, Copenhagen, September 2015, pp. 1-14.

Ahlquist, S., Erb, D. and Menges, A.: 2015, Evolutionary structural and spatial adaptation of topologically differentiated tensile systems in architectural design, Artificial Intelligence for Engineering Design, Analysis and Manufacturing Journal, 29 (04), pp 393-415. (online)

Ahlquist, S., Newell, C., Thun, G. and Velikov, K,: 2015, Towards a Pedagogy of Material Systems Research, in Bieg, K. (ed.) TxA Interactive Conference Proceedings, Fort Worth, November 2013, Texas Society of Architects, pp. 22-33.

Ahlquist, S.: 2014, Post-forming Composite Morphologies: Materialization and design methods for inducing form through textile material behavior, in Gerber, D., Huang, A. and Sanchez, J. (eds.) ACADIA 14: Design Agency [Proceedings of the 34th Annual Conference of the Association for Computer Aided Design in Architecture (ACADIA), Los Angeles, October, 2014, pp. 267-276.

Ahlquist, S. and Menges, A.: 2013, Frameworks for Computational Design of Textile Micro-Architectures and Material Behavior in Forming Complex Force-Active Structures. In: Beasley, P., Khan, O. and Stacey, M. (eds.) ACADIA 13: Adaptive Architecture Proceedings of the 33rd Annual Conference of the Association for Computer Aided Design in Architecture (ACADIA) Cambridge, October 2013, pp. 281-292.

Ahlquist, S., Lienhard, J., Knippers, J. and Menges, A.: 2013, Physical and Numerical Prototyping for Integrated Bending and Form-Active Textile Hybrid Structures. In: Gengnagel, C., Kilian, A., Nembrini, J. and Scheurer, F. (eds.) Rethinking Prototyping: Proceedings of the Design Modelling Symposium, Berlin, October 2013, pp. 1-14.