Taking Flight

Travel patterns, ancient roads and fractal geometry served as rich sources of inspiration for a new carpet tile collection designed for large-scale public spaces.

Interior designer Pam Light from HOK’s Los Angeles office collaborated with Matthew Fulvio and Diana Chang to bring the Flight collection to life for Shaw Contract Group.

The designs emerged as Shaw challenged the team to explore concepts that reflect how people traverse vast spaces.

“We used HOK heat mapping from several of our recent aviation projects to study circulation and congestion areas,” said Light.

The team also studied imagery of ancient roads: from the terra-cotta pavers of Italian plazas, to the broken relics of Rome’s great boulevards to the baked mud from the Serengeti paths.

That exercise led to an analysis of an individual’s typical journey through an airport. The non-linear experience involves rushing to stand in line and check baggage, then waiting in the security line, followed by a mad dash to locate a specific gate.

“It is a convoluted and crazy path,” said Fulvio. “We might spend 80 percent of our time going 20 percent of the distance. It’s a rule that permeates our lives. We spend a lot of time moving very slowly for the purpose of traveling very fast.”

To translate these abstract ideas to imagery, Fulvio used computer algorithms to explore the notion of Lévy flights, a mathematical model he first learned about in junior high school. Reflecting numerous patterns in nature, Lévy flights reveal how organisms move: many short hops interspersed with a few giant leaps.

One of the initial designs that materialized — a pattern of dots that resembled static on an old TV — served as the template for “Pause Tile,” a simple, quiet pattern for smaller spaces.

“That image resonated with the Shaw design team,” Light said. “They loved that there was a rich travel story underlying the design.”

This led to the development of three other complementary patterns to equip designers with a toolkit for capturing movement and transitions between space types. The cobbles and pavers of ancient roads and plazas inspired “Vantage Tile,” a pattern of bold, geometric shapes for larger spaces. Other designs include “Step Tile,” an ombré pattern that exudes movement, and “Interact Tile,” a striped pattern that directs the eye and assists in wayfinding.

The Flight collection is designed to accommodate a wide range of contemporary public spaces: from airports and convention centers to hospitals and universities.

“We built a design vocabulary that allows designers to change within the volume of space and what they would like to emphasize,” said Light. “Sometimes you want the flooring to be quiet so the architecture can really step forward and speak. Other times, you want the flooring to be very active, such as in a Las Vegas hotel, and then subtly fade into other spaces, such as a ballroom.”

Flight is available in 13 colors that include warm and cool tones as well as bold color options. Depending on how the styles are used within a space, the tiles can create varying degrees of feelings of movement and energy. 

A Crash Course in Carpet

Shaw enlisted the design expertise of HOK because of the firm’s extensive experience in designing large-scale commercial spaces.

“We also bring all the practical knowledge that we’ve learned over the years, such as knowing what patterns will help hide soiling or coffee spills — all those things that clients appreciate,” said Light.

Before embarking on the assignment, the HOK Product Design team flew to Shaw’s headquarters in Dalton, Georgia, to tour the carpet mills and experience a crash course in the manufacture and marketing of carpet tile.

“We had to understand the process and limitations of making carpet tiles in order to design something that would work for them and be successful for all of us,” Light said. “We also spent time with the design and sales teams exploring colors, what sells well and how Shaw markets their products so that we understood the full process.”

Shaw challenged the team to propose outside-the-box design concepts.

“The team looked outside of what would have been our normal vocabulary as interior designers,” said Light. “It’s not often we have someone who likes to write software and understands fractal equations.”  

The project benefited from the complementary perspectives of team members in Los Angeles and San Francisco.

“It was a nice blend of different knowledge bases and markets, as San Francisco has a more classic and conservative client style and Los Angeles is more informal and funky,” noted Light. “And Silicon Valley is located between the two.”