Geoff Gosling and his product development team at DIRTT had an idea: How could they turn the company’s demountable walls into foldable, collapsible structures, effectively allowing a DIRTT wall to open up when more space was needed, or be closed to create smaller spaces. And the company’s co-founder and product development president needed to keep the development of the product a secret.
It wouldn’t be easy. Foldable walls are certainly not new, but Leaf would be different. The development team wanted to make DIRTT walls, which are far more complex and beautiful than the plastic curtains used in most accordion walls, easy to move and adjust. And Gosling insisted Leaf be designed so it could be retrofitted onto any DIRTT environment ever created to protect its customers’ existing investments.
“We’ve been asked for something like this for quite a while,” Gosling says. “Our first response was that we were going to stick to our knitting and let the other people who do that, do that. At the same time, DIRTT is about creating adaptive environments, and to create a product that would allow change in seconds or minutes, there’s definitely a need for that.”
Gosling and the development team started working on Leaf about six months ago. It was a project so secret even co-founder and Chief Executive Officer Mogens Smed knew nothing about it. The team set out to solve the problem while at the same time making sure it fit with DIRTT’s overall perspective — to extend the nature of what the company is doing without harming what it already is.
As they dug into the design challenges for the new product, they were delighted to find creating Leaf would not only support the notions of sustainability and reconfigurability, it endorsed or “supersized” it.
“One thing particularly strange about Leaf is that it is retrofittable,” Gosling says. “It’s really shouting from the mountaintop the nature of our language; about how things talk to each other. That language — and it is an agnostic language — we are able to add to over time.”
Simply put, Leaf fits into what DIRTT is doing because it continues to expand what’s possible for designers. The story of Leaf really is the story of DIRTT: taking something simple like a demountable wall and, through the use of the company’s powerful ICE software, turning it into a product limited only by the imagination of the designer.
After experiencing DIRTT walls in corporate settings, designers pulled DIRTT into health care and education settings. Seeing how the products are used there, DIRTT is moving into residential applications.
Leaf is a simple concept: Give objects designed to be put into place until moved hinges and bearing systems and guides so they can move easily. Leaf can be added to new products or to any DIRTT environment in place now. “Leaf had to be indistinguishable,” Gosling says. “It seemed obvious to us, but we had to make all the modules part of Leaf. As soon as you do that, all the things associated with Leaf look the same because they are the same. At the end of the day, it is a really simple notion.”
DIRTT works because it is so adaptable to new attributes designers bring to it. Leaf had to have that same level of adaptability. Once the design team had the concept, Gosling says it became a “Wow, I could have had a V-8” moment. It all came together.
It was time to bring Smed into the project. The only reason Gosling didn’t bring him in earlier is that he was working on a major project of his own. Gosling had built a Leaf environment in an unused corner of DIRTT’s factory in Calgary. “I invited him to see it, but told him he couldn’t tell anyone about what I was going to show him,” Gosling says. “(Smed) got it right away and saw the opportunities for commercial, educational, health care, residential — you name it. Mogens kept his word and didn’t say anything. I think it was the longest two months of his life.”
When Leaf was introduced, it was obvious the design world immediately understood the applications. In the first five days after the product was unveiled, about 100 new opportunities showed up at DIRTT’s door.
“Our commitment from the very beginning was to develop a solution that was totally non-generational, and Leaf has proven this in technicolor,” Smed says. “This is without a doubt the greatest testimony to sustainability and client care the manufacturing and construction industries have ever seen.”
Leaf, currently in prototype phase, works with any DIRTT wall created by the company, allowing clients to retrofit their existing installations if they want the ability to quickly change a space. It’s essentially a behavior or mechanism that can be used on new builds to create collapsible walls in addition to working perfectly with existing DIRTT walls clients have already installed.
And there are no shortage of applications. A company already asked DIRTT if they could make walls in Leaf, not to divide space, but to use as a folding glass whiteboard. Leaf also could be used to make a wall that divides space, but folds into a smaller meeting space in the corner of a room.
“The thing about it is that it is directly connected to our appetite of doing strange things,” Gosling says. “That’s why the design community is so connected to us: We want to challenge them and our clients. Leaf is not meant to be a finished thing, ever. As people come to us with weird and wonderful configurations, we know there is more strangeness to come.”
Gosling says DIRTT’s design team is excited to get Leaf into the market so they can get the industry perspective on it. Already it is prompting DIRTT to push the idea out even further. Imagine Leaf in a residential application or in education. “It redefines how people can create space. I think how people use it is going to be interesting,” Gosling says.