Tsz Yan Ng

This Michigan-based academic is using textiles to create space age forms that could transform how we build.



Howl5 ft3 header
Howl 5 tszyanng feature 3
Tsz Yan Ng
Assistant Professor at the Taubman College of Architecture + Planning at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor
Photo: Kathy Velikov

“It’s exciting to create sustainable practices that reduce construction waste in the forming of the material. The result is a more resilient concrete that will last longer with the least amount of maintenance, and finally that might even lessen the amount of work needed for such construction.”

— Tsz Yan Ng
Howl 5 tszyanng feature 5
Demolding diagrid cast
Photo: Sean Ahlquist

Why concrete and textiles? As a designer at heart, while Ng was pursuing her PhD about 15 years ago, she worked on a façade that resembled textile patterning for a clothing company’s headquarters in China. Later at the University of Michigan, her interest in a larger role for textiles in building materials continued. Ng’s research draws on the expertise of many different fields, from material science and engineering to construction logic and architectural design, and she has worked collaboratively with her students, engineers, scientists, and even a CNC knitting expert. Ng explains, “It’s exciting to create sustainable practices that reduce construction waste in the forming of the material. The result is a more resilient concrete that will last longer with the least amount of maintenance, and finally that might even lessen the amount of work needed for such construction.”


The Knit Casting project, for example, is a recent collaboration with Sean Ahlquist, a CNC knitting expert, and Evgueni T. Filipov, from the Civil and Environmental Engineering Department at the University of Michigan. It explores the use of CNC manufactured knits to produce volumetric textile formwork for casting glass fiber reinforced concrete. The research investigates how a functionally-graded knit formwork can be used as a fully seamless system to cast concrete.


The advantage of using a knitted textile as formwork is that it uses a minimal amount of material in comparison to traditional wood or steel formwork. This means that you can get complex geometries and textures that would otherwise be difficult to achieve with traditional flat stock materials. Not only does it reduce the labor and time in the making of the structure through automation, it also drastically reduces material waste for construction. The knit formwork is lightweight, transportable and can be deployed for casting anywhere. “It uses less concrete and cement as a material,” Ng says. “And so, there’s a lot of pluses when we start rethinking how we cast concrete.”


The research team has come up with several knit types of varying stretch that create diverse formworks. By inflating the knit with concrete, you end up giving both the concrete and the soft textile it’s final form. “In the end, we don’t know the final form until the knit is cast,” says Ng. In one example, the team used a single jersey knit with polyester that could be removed quite easily after forming the concrete shape.


The researchers have developed simulation models to better understand the effects of the knit in relation to the hydrostatic pressure of the concrete. They have also experimented with different materials. In one case, they used acrylic which was heated and vacuumed over a diagrid cast, creating a complete seal to the panel and resulting in a space-age bubble-like window. Ng hopes to be able to develop different ways to assemble the products so that they can be put together either on- or off-site.


“Our built environment is composed of different materials, which means that instead of just using one material like 3D printing, we could use several materials,” Ng says. “As you’re creating an interior or exterior wall panel, you could create views out of it, using not only concrete but also glass. The challenge is figuring out how to do this at scale.”

Why concrete and textiles? As a designer at heart, while Ng was pursuing her PhD about 15 years ago, she worked on a façade that resembled textile patterning for a clothing company’s headquarters in China. Later at the University of Michigan, her interest in a larger role for textiles in building materials continued. Ng’s research draws on the expertise of many different fields, from material science and engineering to construction logic and architectural design, and she has worked collaboratively with her students, engineers, scientists, and even a CNC knitting expert. Ng explains, “It’s exciting to create sustainable practices that reduce construction waste in the forming of the material. The result is a more resilient concrete that will last longer with the least amount of maintenance, and finally that might even lessen the amount of work needed for such construction.”


The Knit Casting project, for example, is a recent collaboration with Sean Ahlquist, a CNC knitting expert, and Evgueni T. Filipov, from the Civil and Environmental Engineering Department at the University of Michigan. It explores the use of CNC manufactured knits to produce volumetric textile formwork for casting glass fiber reinforced concrete. The research investigates how a functionally-graded knit formwork can be used as a fully seamless system to cast concrete.


The advantage of using a knitted textile as formwork is that it uses a minimal amount of material in comparison to traditional wood or steel formwork. This means that you can get complex geometries and textures that would otherwise be difficult to achieve with traditional flat stock materials. Not only does it reduce the labor and time in the making of the structure through automation, it also drastically reduces material waste for construction. The knit formwork is lightweight, transportable and can be deployed for casting anywhere. “It uses less concrete and cement as a material,” Ng says. “And so, there’s a lot of pluses when we start rethinking how we cast concrete.”


The research team has come up with several knit types of varying stretch that create diverse formworks. By inflating the knit with concrete, you end up giving both the concrete and the soft textile it’s final form. “In the end, we don’t know the final form until the knit is cast,” says Ng. In one example, the team used a single jersey knit with polyester that could be removed quite easily after forming the concrete shape.


The researchers have developed simulation models to better understand the effects of the knit in relation to the hydrostatic pressure of the concrete. They have also experimented with different materials. In one case, they used acrylic which was heated and vacuumed over a diagrid cast, creating a complete seal to the panel and resulting in a space-age bubble-like window. Ng hopes to be able to develop different ways to assemble the products so that they can be put together either on- or off-site.


“Our built environment is composed of different materials, which means that instead of just using one material like 3D printing, we could use several materials,” Ng says. “As you’re creating an interior or exterior wall panel, you could create views out of it, using not only concrete but also glass. The challenge is figuring out how to do this at scale.”

Howl 5 tszyanng feature 3
Tsz Yan Ng
Assistant Professor at the Taubman College of Architecture + Planning at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor
Photo: Kathy Velikov

“It’s exciting to create sustainable practices that reduce construction waste in the forming of the material. The result is a more resilient concrete that will last longer with the least amount of maintenance, and finally that might even lessen the amount of work needed for such construction.”

— Tsz Yan Ng
Howl 5 tszyanng feature 5
Demolding diagrid cast
Photo: Sean Ahlquist