Award-winning designer, founder of JK Design GmbH, faculty at UCLA’s Architecture and Urban Design Department Julia Körner, pioneers the convergence of architecture, product and fashion design. She is specialized in additive manufacturing and robotic technology which she applies to 3D-printed garments in collaboration with Dutch fashion designer Iris van Herpen, Parisian Haute Couture Houses and the like.
I was honored with the opportunity interviewing a natural talent like Julia and delighted with her active participation and original eye-opening responses. Her feedback was highly educational to me and it increased my respect for her and her accomplished work even further. I hope this article will do the same for you and give you interesting and entertaining reading. Without further ado, please get comfortable and ready to be inspired and motivated. Enjoy!
Born in Austria where you also studied like in London, where you also practiced like in New York and currently faculty at UCLA with academic appointments at the University of Applied Arts Vienna, Lund University in Sweden and the Architectural Association Visiting School in France and Jordan; you are obviously well educated and traveled. Can you tell us which of these periods in your life, geographical areas and cultures have had the greatest influence on you personally and professionally?
When I did my first internship in New York this was a very exciting time. It was during my studies at the University of Applied Arts in Vienna in 2006 when Mark Foster Gage invited me during the “Giant Robot Studio” Final Review for an internship. His architecture office was located in Lower East Side. It had been the first time I was traveling on my own to the United States and was the most mesmerizing experience. I met many great people, friends for life, and was exposed to a creative melting pod of new ideas and architectural design methodologies. Likewise the flourishing creative scenery in Shoreditch had a huge impact on my life when I worked for the world-renowned designer Ross Lovegrove in London. His Studio was in Notting Hill and therefore I was exposed to two very different environments in London City. Very edgy, young creative crowd with electronic music events and inspiring gallery shows on an every day basis. I traveled back and forth between Vienna, New York and London while finishing my studies and this allowed me to create an international network within the professional design world which is still very beneficial today living and working between Austria and Los Angeles. I am teaching at UCLA in the Architecture and Urban Design Department focusing on academic research and building design while with my company in Salzburg I develop cutting edge design applications for 3D printing. The work of JK Design GmbH involves a multiplicity of scales between architectural installations, fashion design and product design. Part of the work is for Haute Couture Fashion houses and I also collaborate with other designers and develop my own designs with this brand.
The scientific/ technical and fashion worlds are almost complete opposites of each other and you seem to mostly operate on the interconnecting threads where they converge. Is it ever hard for you to switch between these worlds or does the contrast inspire and motivate you in a certain way?
I am inspired by the unique interdisciplinary exchange, the digital methodologies and design processes allow me to work across disciplines.
Utilizing the similar software techniques between architecture and fashion design and having worked since more then a decade with additive manufacturing allows me to have an expertise in this specific professional niche. Pioneering this innovative field and working with other progressive designers inspires and challenges me. I find it sometimes hard when clients or collaborators expect me to deliver work as a technician, simply transferring their ideas into 3D models. Personally I believe my work involves the transfer of traditional craftsmanship to the cutting edge of implementing emerging technologies into these analog processes. Beyond the 1:1 translation of a sketch into a 3D file, my design work involves innovative design processes, applied studies of materials and direct exchange with the engineers at the 3D printing companies who analyze the 3D files and operate the machines.
The digital and 3D printing developments come over as a complete game changer for fashion when it comes to things like fabrics, tools, human resources, skills, infrastructure, logistics and many more areas of an industry which has otherwise developed most of these facets in a modest pace. Do you experience a polarization in the industry because of it and how do you deal with that?
Several exhibitions in the past years focus on new techniques and processes in fashion. These exhibitions feature mostly designs from high end brands in world renowned museums and disguise the process of fabric making by mystifying novel techniques of manufacturing. News magazines announce in articles “the machines” have created these dresses or “liquid resin has been struck by a laser and creating these forms and shapes”. No machine existing as of today, is able to create such designs by itself. Therefore, the designer who writes algorithms and designs with digital software’s, as we architects do, are extremely relevant for this integration of such skills and tools. I am surprised that the fashion world is so very much behind in acknowledging that the use of emerging technologies and involvement of specialists who have the expertise to digitally craft and design with these techniques in the computer and are a key part of the design process.
The industry seems on the one side wanting to include the novel techniques into their design process however it is not ready for the collaborative approach as it exists today in other industries such as architecture for example.
Given the increasing publication of digitized 3D fashion designs, are you concerned with more rampant piracy and consider protection of your creative and intellectual property through watermarking, etc? Or do you have a more ‘open source’ type attitude towards these developments?
The designs I create are extremely rich in their complexity, therefore it would be very hard for anyone to actually copy any of my designs. Special algorithms are developed during the design process and are unique in their mathematical logic and aesthetic. Combined with the 3D printing processes and specifics to material it is unlikely that anyone can reproduce the pieces. In all my designs I own the copyright even within high-level collaborations I cannot not give away IP. Yes, indeed in recent years I am more and more concerned about IP and work closely with my legal advisers to protect my work, which is not always easy as a young designer.
Considering your expertise and interaction with institutes like UCLA; are you in anyway involved with projects like Google’s Jacquard, which integrates technology into fabrics and connects the garments people wear to the Internet of Things?
I am not involved in any fashion projects within the academic environment and focus rather on the professional industry. I have lectured widely at conferences and 3D printing events and panels internationally.
You have done many individual and collective exhibitions for about 15 years with an uptick a decade ago to almost a quarterly frequency. Which of the fashion oriented exhibitions stands out for you and why?
First and foremost the “Manus x Machina” exhibition at the Metropolitan Museum of New York was the most important for my career. It shows the significance of the work I do in one of the largest and most important Museums in the world. Three pieces, where I was involved in the design, were exhibited in this show in 2016.
Further, another important exhibition was the “Body Building” exhibition at the Tallinn Architecture Biennale in 2015 in Estonia. I was honored to be part of this unique exhibition where the most current international cutting edge digital designers were featured. The exhibition showcased digital design on a multitude of scales and I was very excited that my work was presented with all the other amazing projects.
The topics of your lectures, publications and workshops range from cutting edge architecture to fashion and technology. Besides your faculty-, design and exhibition work, are you still able to keep up with the increasing speed of development and maintain an in-depth knowledge/ expertise in all these areas?
If not, what are the challenges and if so, how?
The academic research and international workshops I teach keep me up to date with the development in software and digital design methodologies. The exchange with other designers and architects is important for this process.
Beyond architects I meet engineers, scientists, biologists, photographers, material experts and roboticists to keep myself up to date with most recent cutting edge technologies. I have also very good connections with people at the 3D printing companies, especially Materialise in Belgium.
Considering all the academic, artistic and commercial work you have produced over the years; which of your personal and professional life concessions allowing it stands out the most?
The biggest turn was when one of the biggest and oldest haute couture houses in Paris contacted me to work with them on an entirely 3D printed collection.
At that moment I founded my company in Salzburg and it meant a big impact on both my professional and personal life.
Julia Koerner in Collaboration with Iris Van Herpen – Materialise Bio Pircy Dress, Paris Ready-To-Wear 2014 – Photography © Michael Zoeter
Does your work life and agenda allow you to reflect and be spiritual at times and how do you go about that?
I do a lot of Pilates to balance my work life agenda on an every day and make up for all the time spend in front of the computer. I also have a place at the beach where I spend time and enjoy the laid back Californian lifestyle, when I am not in an airplane or working on the next project.
Personally I love the desert, road trips through the rough countryside and enticing natural environment inspire me and encourage me to keep on doing new innovative projects and pushing the boundaries even further.
Looking at your international work, what are your special relations with Sweden and Jordan and how were these established?
In the time between 2010-12 I was teaching many international workshops in Lund, Sweden. It gave me the opportunity to gain academic teaching experience as a visiting professor at the University and be exposed to the unique Scandinavian design environment.
Since 2011 I am faculty at the Architectural Association Visiting School Program and have been involved in many workshops in Paris and Amman. The workshops in Jordan are particularly exciting because I love the middle eastern culture. The biodiversity in Jordan is a fantastic resource for natural extreme environments. Since I draw a lot of inspiration from biology and nature, it is the perfect place to study these environments.
Can you tell us a bit about your roadmap and where we will be able to see more of you?
Recently I have started to work more in the Costume Design Discipline and have produced some work for a Hollywood Movie which is due to come out in 2018. I am very much interested in including AI into the fashion work and there are some new interesting projects coming out soon. Focusing further on bringing the 3D printing work to a larger scale is what I am most interested in. I would love to realize the work I do on an architectural scale one day.