Travis Fitch believes that “minimalism doesn’t have to rule the world.” That means original jewelry, lighting, and accessories that crackle with complexity, pushing the boundaries of contemporary design. The architect and designer may have worked for major firms, but his singular obsession, the thing that keeps him up at night, is Fitchwork, a collaborative design studio that turns geometry and pattern into irreverent, unprecedented objects. We met Fitch at his first solo exhibit, the Superpattern Pop-up, and were equal parts delighted and blown away by the beauty of not only the pieces on display, but also the design of the exhibition itself. He let us in on the secrets of his creative process, his inspirations, and the serious role of play in his work.
What are Superpatterns?
Superpatterns are variable, three-dimensional networks rooted in a combination of geometry, classical patterning and textile design. The different Superpatterns begin as a set of 3D lines within a simple module, like a triangle or hexagon, that produce a woven surface as they grow and aggregate.
Each pattern can transform between multiple states depending on how they are used, opening and closing to control lighting effects and movement, or changing in thickness based on material constraints. Because of this, they are incredibly versatile systems that can be applied to all manner of shapes, sizes and functions. The name comes from a concept in number theory — a set of all possible arrangements for a group of things — which is a central principle to the collection, that the designs are not static, perfect objects, but exist across a spectrum of possibilities.
How does it feel to see these algorithmically generated patterns in three physical dimensions?
It never ceases to be a delightful and unexpected experience. I spend so much time modeling and developing the patterns virtually, and nothing can compare to the physical object. There is so much dynamism to reality that doesn’t exist inside a computer — how light and shadows behave, the weight and feel of materials, their movement in space and time — no simulation or rendering can compete with this.
The patterns are designed to produce different qualities of parallax, and maximize how an object transforms or changes when viewed from different perspectives. Though I can control exactly what the geometry is at the moment of fabrication, it is impossible to predict or even describe these effects. My goal is to produce static objects that are transformational, that maximize the effects of light and perception.
“It never ceases to be a delightful and unexpected experience. I spend so much time modeling and developing the patterns virtually, and nothing can compare to the physical object.”
Did you find inspiration in nature, math, or somewhere else?
I am primarily influenced by mathematicians and designers, both for developing topologies of different tessellations and applying them to the design of things. My bookshelf is stacked with all manner of visual resources — geometry catalogs, illustrated pattern books, topological handbooks, ornamentation design guides and biological illustrations.
Each Superpattern is generated through symmetric rules that produce woven tessellations as they grow and aggregate. This process is more a matter of play and discovery than inspiration — realizing each new pattern feels like stumbling on a new chord or harmony. While the rules and structures exist in nature and geometrical discourse, the specific geometries are something other, a human abstraction.
“This process is more a matter of play and discovery than inspiration — realizing each new pattern feels like stumbling on a new chord or harmony.”
Were there any surprises? Did you find that the lighting fixtures diffused light in an unexpected way?
I usually produce renderings of the different designs before printing anything, to have an idea of how they will look and feel when illuminated, but they are always more captivating in reality. The biggest surprise (for me) was how much personality the different objects take on. We tend to think of digital designs as being a bit hollow, just a bunch of 1’s and 0’s, but I am struck by how much life and character they can have.
Relative to industrial production, when you make oodles of the most average, market-tested, risk-averse thing possible, we are entering this crazy, diverse era where products can be idiosyncratic, meaningful and unique. This isn’t automatic; this feeling and connection has to be nurtured through design, and balanced with the right amount of openness and choice.
“Relative to industrial production, when you make oodles of the most average, market-tested, risk-averse thing possible, we are entering this crazy, diverse era where products can be idiosyncratic, meaningful and unique.”
The presentation was a central feature the exhibition. Did you do the full setup, or did you work with a curator or gallerist to achieve the (fittingly) beautiful display?
I designed the exhibition, from concept sketch to installation, but had incredible support from a few collaborators. The primary element, an organic landscape to display the collection, was produced collaboratively with Proptogroup and Neoset designs using a 7-axis robotic CNC. The vinyl graphics and printed handouts were also designed and developed with Strongwater.co, a small design studio in San Francisco. Otherwise I had total control of the exhibition design, display, installation and logistics — an exhilarating and exhausting task.
How does it feel to have your own solo exhibition? Did you anticipate going in this direction in life, or is this a bit of a surprise or departure?
It’s very exciting and satisfying to share these designs with the world in a cohesive, site-specific installation. I’ve been working with many of the concepts and methods in the collection for nearly a decade now — not with this specific goal in mind, but as the work developed it felt like the right direction to go. The different objects are particularly three-dimensional and tactile, and it was very important to me that people had the opportunity to touch, try on, and experience them in person.
What’s next for Fitchwork?
The collection is set up to grow in multiple directions, both through the addition of new patterns and new typologies. There are so many applications to pursue, it takes a lot of restraint to stay focused! Ultimately, I’d like to expand the scale and application of the different pattern systems to become more spatial — i.e. shading systems, interior screens, furniture and surface finishes. It was important to me to start with the smallest bits and details, to explore an intimate scale and relationship to the human body. As all of the work is rooted in modularity, and the relationship of part to whole, it’s well-suited to larger, architectural possibilities.