An Interdisciplinary Design Build Installation for a Landmark Shoe Museum

Presented by: Lois Weinthal, Ala Roushan, Vincent Hui

A landmark shoe museum in a major North American city invited two design programs at a university to collaborate on the design and fabrication of a street front window installation that wraps a significant city corner to celebrate the museum’s twentieth anniversary. The museum engages the public with its street front gallery window as it runs along a major east-west and north-south corridor. Negotiations began at the administrative level from the museum team with the director, founder, board members and media representatives; and the university team with deans and chairs of programs. The discussions resulted in a contract between the museum and two of the university’s programs, Interior Design and Architectural Science, to invite students from each to work with faculty mentors and receive credit in the university’s unique learning innovation module. The design team was a collaboration of eight students, four from Interior Design and four from Architectural Science, and each received a course credit under a university-wide curriculum model that does not culminate in a degree but recognition on transcript of participating in a learning module with learning objectives that place emphasis on experiential learning, innovation, external partnerships and technology. This program module is unique to this university, which receives government funding for students to pursue these projects. The students do not pay for the course credit, and are given free access to analog and digital tools, assistance from a technologist, and faculty mentors. The museum provided funding for the project, guidance, and media representation for the project. The launch of the project began with an introduction to the museum by the director, curator and an assigned board member to inform students of the museum’s mission so that it could be integrated into the student’s design proposal. This included a tour of the museum, video stories produced by the museum about significant shoes in the collection, and time spent in the museum’s archives to gain first-hand experience with the content. The curated installations highlight shoes from numerous regions of the world, and represent countless periods in history. The museum founder is sensitive to cultural issues and has the largest Inuit shoe collection worldwide so that visitors may learn their stories and challenges facing this community. Students started the design process by breaking into four teams and formally presenting proposals to the museum team. The museum team provided comments, which gave the students further direction resulting in a final proposal. The design team translated the historical shoes into a contemporary language using digital tools. This included a translation of shoe profiles using parametric modeling and fabrication software. The result was a composition that spanned 25 meters using over 13,000 dowels in varying lengths to establish shoe profiles representative of different eras and cultures. The parametric increase and decrease of each dowel along a flat datum allowed the surface to gain spatial depth within the limits of the street front gallery. From a distance, the dowels resembled images of moving feet wearing iconic shoes from the museum’s collection. At this scale, the installation expresses a highly dynamic optic experience, where the eye is drawn to the dramatic undulations of the dowels rhythmically rising up and disappearing again into the field. LED lights illuminate the display at night to add depth of the overall display, as well as reveal the various pocketed intrusions embedded within the panel material. In the neutral areas of the topography, video monitors were located in the installation with footage that reinforced the Shoe Museum’s mandate of highlighting these everyday objects. The concept of topography was central in drawing together a set of tangent but related elements resulting in the Shoe Museum installation.


  • Iwamoto, L. (2009). Digital Fabrications: Architectural and Material Techniques. New York: Princeton Architectural Press
  • Dunn, N. (2012). Digital Fabrication in Architecture. London: Laurence King Publishers
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