Common Thread

Winding through the lush, secluded courtyard of a 19th-century monastery, Common Thread reveals a space previously hidden from the public through an immersive textile installation. This installation for the 2024 Bruges Triennial was designed by SO-IL, Summum Engineering and TU Delft in close collaboration. The temporary lightweight structure consists of actively bent rods, a digitally knitted fabric and guy cables, anchored to the ground. Summum Engineering provided engineering calculations and report.

What started in 1968 as a traditional retrospective of current Belgian art, evolved into a triennial event in which international artists and architects are invited to develop and show contemporary, site-specific art and architecture to the city. With Spaces of Possibility, the 2024 edition of the Bruges Triennial takes a close look at the city and its public space, and asks: which places are currently underused?


For one such location, the garden of the former Capuchin monastery, architecture firm SO–IL from New York was invited to develop an installation. The site was owned by the religious order of the Friars Minor Capuchin until 2020. Previously hidden from the public and generally unknown, it is now open for the first time through this work. The garden is located in the west quarter of Bruges and is part of a major revaluation project in the city.


Inspired by Bruges’ centuries-old history as a lacemaking centre, SO-IL intended to pay homage to this tradition, as well as the embedded knowledge passed down by the women of Bruges through generations. The celebrated tradition of bobbin lace, still maintained in the city’s shops and ancient beguinage, inspired them to reimagine this intricate process on a different scale and in a modern context.


SO-IL invited Summum to discuss and explore various structural topologies, and different levels and scale of modularity. We quickly suggested to add Delft University of Technology (TU Delft) to the design team, and bring in their amazing digital knitting technology. The design settled on the use of bending-active arches with knitted fabric, to create a tunnel system. To exploit the use of digital knitting, and create surprising features, we provided example form-finding models to SO-IL, to generate minimal and non-manifold surfaces.

The result, Common Thread, spans two neighbourhoods and creates a new connection in the urban fabric of historical Bruges. An unassuming entryway invites visitors into a playfully twisting and turning tunnel system. It meanders through the enclosed green space, slowly revealing more of it at every turn. At times the visitor is ejected into the sunlit courtyard, then guided back to pivot and continue their journey within. Once a hidden retreat, the monastery’s garden is transformed into a playground for serendipitous encounters and exploration.


The fabric, made from recycled PET bottles, was digitally knit in the basement of TU Delft’s department of civil engineering. There, a commonly available industrial knitting machine reads out the complex patterns created by the algorithm that Dr. Mariana Popescu developed.

Together, SO-IL and TU Delft explored the possibilities of this innovative fabrication technique. The resulting fabric is knit into varying ratios, its individual threads combining and diverging into surprising, ever-changing patterns. The black-and-white plain weave creates a play of light and shadow, open and closed, as a result.


The fabric, produced in panels, is assembled with a series of bending-active arches of varying curvature. The arches had to be sized to be thick enough to withstand extreme wind loads during storm conditions, yet slender enough to be bent into their form. Depending on the location, and amount of bending, either glass-fibre or carbon, and either tubular or solid profiles were needed.

Summum was commissioned in the final two months to provide engineering calculations on the global structure, that had already been designed and produced. This posed extreme challenges to our team, to meet the hard deadline of the Triennial’s opening, while being constrained to a fixed geometry and budget.

An intense period followed to size the actively bent rods, design guy cables, and provide inputs for the anchoring. Different layouts for the rods, cables, and options for materials were checked. Beyond our original scope, we took part in many detailed design discussions, offered suggestions and details for the construction process and assembly. A visit to the supplier for the fibre-reinforced polymer rods, PullD, allowed us to physically test and manually bend various diameters. Throughout the project, the team remained committed, with the final report submitted on time.


SO-IL’s and TU Delft’s then entered a final hardcore stretch of construction and assembly on site. This process took a tremendous effort, including many late nights, some redesign, and the dedication of many volunteers. The result, Common Thread, ties the traditions of the past to the possibilities of the future. A traditional craft is turned into a single and unique piece of architecture – an interactive space that people can explore, and where history technology, and discovery meet.


Brugge Plus

Design team
SO-IL | Jing Liu, Florian Idenburg, Fabian Puller
Summum Engineering | Diederik Veenendaal
TU Delft | Mariana Popescu

Structural design and engineering
Summum Engineering | Alessio Vigorito, Anand Shah, Diederik Veenendaal, Tatsuki Fujiu

Membrane design and production
TU Delft | Mariana Popescu, Anass Kariouh

Fabian Puller, Mariana Popescu, Anass Kariouh, Jean-Pierre Gereels, Nick Gereels, Valentin Lorenzen da Silva, Jade Verlinde, Frieder Ringel, Robin Oval (assembly)
Jean-Pierre Gereels, Nick Gereels (baseplates)

PullD (rods)
Morssinkhof Plastics (rPET yarn)

Filip Dujardin
Iwan Baan
Anand Shah

Additional funding
Creative Industries Fund (presentation)

Location: Bruges, Belgium
Time: 2024
Status: Completed
Height: 5.6 m
Area: 1.300 m²
Services: Structural design and engineering


Recent projects