RAIC Allied Arts Medal: Kathyrn Walter

A felt wall features at Aesop’s Toronto flagship, designed by superkül. Photo by Ben Rahn / A-Frame

For almost 20 years, Toronto artist and designer Kathryn Walter has created feature wall installations in Canada and the United States through collaborations with architects and interior designers. Since founding FELT Studio in 2000, she has worked almost exclusively with industrial, manufactured felt for its aesthetic, insulating, fire-resistant and sound-absorbent qualities.

Felt is made of pressed wool in a range of thicknesses, densities and tones. Walter came to felt through family history. Her great-grandfather emigrated to Canada from Germany and started a business in the 1890s importing felt from his homeland.

FELT and Bev Koski of Seventh Generation Image-Makers collaborated on this mural in the Centre for Native Child and Family Well Being in Toronto, designed by LGA Architectural Partners. Photo by Ben Rahn / A-Frame

In 2002, Bruce Mau Design, which had the signage contract for Walt Disney Concert Hall designed by Gehry Partners in Los Angeles, hired Walter to research and develop prototypes for the donor wall that required names cut from felt. She has since consulted to a number of high-profile architecture firms regarding the use of felt as wallcovering, including Diller Scofidio + Renfro (Alice Tully Hall at Lincoln Center, 2007); OMA (Milstein Hall at Cornell University, 2010) and Kohn Pedersen Fox (School of Law at City University of  New York 2012).

These projects gave Walter the impetus to develop personal techniques of layering, folding, stitching and bolting to create a range of textured wallcoverings that have since been adapted and customized to various sites.

One series, FELT Striations, is based on forming a wall from layers of stacked felt. It was developed while working with B-Space Architecture + Design in New York on screening room doors for a Manhattan apartment, and with Toronto’s LGA Architectural Partners on a shop for Jamie Kennedy Kitchens in Toronto. Another series, FELT Ripple, is produced in a range of styles for SO-IL, of Brooklyn, Ten Arquitectos, of Mexico City and New York, Brininstool + Lynch, of Chicago and Toronto-based superkül.

A felt fireplace surround graces a private residence designed by Dubbeldam Architecture + Design. Photo by Bob Gundu

Current work includes a wall for the lobby of Natural Resources Defence Council in Washington, D.C., with Studio Gang, of Chicago.

Furnishings are another aspect of her practice. Most notable is the FELT Spool Stool produced in multiples for hospitality and retail spaces. From 2004 to 2010, she produced a lighting pendant shade for Eurolite.

The Gladstone Hotel commissioned a felt feature wall, lights and furnishings for one of its guest suites. Photo by Tom Arban

Choosing to keep the studio small, Walter remains involved in the process from the architect’s initial call through construction.

Walter is in her second year of developing a felt studio course at the Ryerson School of Interior Design.

Gow Hastings Architects purchased a felt hanging for their boardroom. Photo by Camille Esquivel

:: Jury ::  Shirley Blumberg (CM, FRAIC), John Brown (FRAIC), Philip Beesley (FRAIC)

Drawing from her deep background in contemporary visual arts and craft and her expertise in industrial textiles, Walter offers a leading example of how collaborators from parallel disciplines can contribute to architecture. Her work with cultural institutions, such as Toronto’s Textile Museum of Canada, has fostered specialized new craft technologies and a new aesthetic language. Walter has developed a deep material practice that she flawlessly executes in her projects. The award recognizes her multi-layered practice, and the sheer generosity of the relationships she has fostered.