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creative:impact - Inspiration And Invention For This Architect Is Born Of Love

Sean Ahlquist

Sean Ahlquist is an accomplished architect in the area of design and fabrication of pre-stressed lightweight structures and innovations in textile-reinforced composite materials.  It was his love for his daughter Ara that inspired his innovation: a social sensory playscape for children on the Autism spectrum.  Sean tells Deb Polich and David Fair how a dad wanting to connect with his daughter led to a breakthrough on this edition of "creative:impact."  Listen here. 

Deb Polich
Deb Polich, President and CEO of The Arts Alliance

Creative industries in Washtenaw County add hundreds of millions of dollars to the local economy.  In the weeks and months to come, 89.1 WEMU's David Fair and co-host Deb Polich, the President and CEO of The Arts Alliance, explore the myriad of contributors that make up the creative sector in Washtenaw County.


Sean Ahlquist is an associate professor of architecture at the University of Michigan’s 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 and design, and music.  Ahlquist teaches courses at all levels, including ongoing involvement with the Master of Science in Material Systems program. 

Sean Ahlquist
Credit Sean Ahlquist
University of Michigan associate professor of architecture Sean Ahlquist

Ahlquist's research formulates computational design frameworks where materiality functions as a primary agent in the organization of architectural systems and their spatial tectonics.  In particular, his 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, which is part of the FabLab at Taubman College.  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 a diverse array of fields.  This collaborative research initially was explored as a part of his doctoral studies in the Institute for Computational Design (ICD) at the University of Stuttgart, Germany.  Ahlquist was a research associate in the ICD and exercised various aspects of his research through seminars and studios in the development of a range of prototypes from small installations to full-scale structures.


Credit Sean Ahlquist
Ara displays her unique perceptions of environment through discovering the nose-dive as that best way to experience the landscape of stretchy and interactive textiles, a truly unexpected capacity of the design for Prof. Ahlquist and his research team. (April 2015 / U-M Liberty Research Annex Gallery / Research Through Making Exhibition)

Ahlquist previously taught at the Academy of Art University in San Francisco, California College of the Arts, and the University of California, Berkeley, and he led design workshops at various academic institutions in the United States, Europe, and Australia.  He continues to publish widely on the topic of computational design, including Computational Design Thinking (Wiley, 2011), co-edited with Achim Menges, which collects and reflects upon seminal texts formulating systems- and material-based approach to architecture and design methodologies.  Since joining Taubman College in 2012, Ahlquist has received numerous grants from U-M for his work. 


Credit Sean Ahlquist
Typically showing little interest in socializing, J exhibits keen social communication through eye gaze (left) and accomplishing tasks with his teacher by pointing out parts of his face (right) that is facilitated by his submersion within and exploration of the fine tactile properties of the textile environment. (April 2019 / Columbus, Indiana / Field Study as part of the ExhibitColumbus Exhibition).

He holds a Master of Architecture from the Architectural Association’s Emergent Design and Technologies Program in London. 


Sean Ahlquist

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— David Fair is the WEMU News Director and host of Morning Edition on WEMU.  You can contact David at 734.487.3363, on twitter @DavidFairWEMU, or email him at dfair@emich.edu

Contact David: dfair@emich.edu
Polich hosts the weekly segment creative:impact, which features creative people, jobs and businesses in the greater Ann Arbor area.
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