Woolen Thread Fonts

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In the mid-70s, Frei Otto investigated strategies for the optimization of urban road systems at the Stuttgart Institut für Leichtbau. In this experiment, he linked start and destination points with loose threads of wool. Afterwards, he soaked the wool in water and the cohesive forces of attraction between the wet strands caused clumping of various strands. The result of this self-organizing system is a compromise between a direct and a minimal path system that can be „programmed“ by varying the length of the threads. This project digitally reconstructs these tests of “material computing” and experiments with the applicability of its aesthetics aspects for font design.

Fig. 21 Material computation, Frei Otto, 1970s

clumping simulation

For the realization of the study, the letters were subdivided in different manners to examine their aesthetic aptitude. In the end, offset curves parallel to the original shape promised to lead to the best results. These curves were then subdivided into segments of controllable length. The starting coordinates of each segment were extracted and replaced with particles at the same position. For the simulation of cohesive forces, an attractive force field was iteratively calculated between all particles (analogous to a magnetic field), which acts exponentially between all neighboring points within a controllable radius. Then the newly deformed curves were reconstructed from the obtained point coordinates.

45 Cf.: Otto, F.: Occupying and Connecting. Thoughts on Territories and Spheres of Influence with Particular Reference to Human Settlement, Stuttgart/London 2009.