Zaha Hadid, Ben van Berkel and more design
3D-printed shoes for United Nude

| 39 comments

Milan 2015: five well-known architects and designers have created pairs of sculptural shoes for footwear brand United Nude made entirely on a 3D printer (+ slideshow).

United Nude founder Rem D Koolhaas enlisted architects Zaha Hadid, Ben van Berkel and Fernando Romero, and designers Ross Lovegrove and Michael Young, to create pairs of women's shoes solely using 3D printing.

Flames by Zaha Hadid
Flames by Zaha Hadid

"We want to push the technology but I also wanted to push the silhouettes," Koolhaas told Dezeen. "I also wanted to create conversational pieces and shoes that are not necessarily for everyday wearing but really are beautiful pieces and conversational pieces, almost like art."

The shoes each took about 24 hours to print using a sPro 60 selective laser sintering (SLS) machine made by 3D printing company 3D Systems.

Flames by Zaha Hadid
Flames by Zaha Hadid

The process starts with a container filled with powder, which is heated in places, as specified by a digital file. This fuses the material together layer by layer until the final form is built up. Once complete, the excess powder is broken away to reveal the design.

Each pair was created using two different materials: the soles were printed in hard nylon, while the uppers were formed from thermoplastic polyurethane (TPU), which is softer and more flexible.



London-based Zaha Hadid previously collaborated with United Nude on a pair of striated shoes with cantilevered heels launched in 2013.

UNX2 by Ben van Berkel
UNX2 by Ben van Berkel

Her new Flames shoes were designed at the same time as a concept, but were resurrected to fit in with this project.

The black designs – which look the most like a typical high-heeled shoe out of the set – feature thorn-like spikes that surround the feet.

UNStudio founder Ben van Berkel likened his grey footwear to a "hoof" due to the shape of the curvaceous shell, formed from a grid of emphasised vertical lines.

UNX2 by Ben van Berkel
UNX2 by Ben van Berkel

"We started off by thinking about how we could work with the idea of verticality and how you can extend the length, especially if you see it from the back," Van Berkel told Dezeen.

The casing reaches all the way down to the floor and conceals the sole and foot, though S-shaped slits provide glimpses on each side.

"They are very easy to walk in," said Van Berkel. "We made a strong construction inside the shoe so that whenever you walk on it you feel stable."

Ilabo by Ross Lovegrove
Ilabo by Ross Lovegrove

British designer Ross Lovegrove worked with Grasshopper software expert Arturo Tedeschi to create the tall fine mesh that shrouds the sole and the wearer's foot like a curtain, and opens at the toe and heel.

"I've gone for extreme verticality," said Lovegrove, who designed the upright elements of his green Ilabo designs to be as thin as the machine could manage.

Ilabo by Ross Lovegrove
Ilabo by Ross Lovegrove

"I'm interested in the idea of de-materialism and minimum material and I also wanted to see the foot, I wanted the ladies' anatomy to participate in the design," Lovegrove added.

The black Young Shoe by Hong Kong-based Michael Young is formed from a solid base topped with a latticed block positioned at an angle to the ground.

Young by Michael Young
Young Shoe by Michael Young

"It's actually comfortable to wear although it doesn't look like it," Young told Dezeen. "I just wanted to take a completely different approach to the way we normally work and just embrace that sculptural aspect."

Young by Michael Young
Young Shoe by Michael Young

Finally, Mexican architect Fernando Romero's red Ammonite shoes are based on the spiral shells of fossilised sea creatures. The designs have a pentagonal profile, completely covering the foot and ankle.

The shoes are on display inside an entirely black room with no daylight at the Teatro Arsenale in Milan until 19 April.

Ammonite by Fernando Romero
Ammonite by Fernando Romero

Each pair of shoes is contained in a glass case on top of a podium, all raised up on a platform and illuminated with ceiling-mounted spotlights.

"I really wanted to create something with a heavy impact and something that you remember," added Koolhaas.

Ammonite by Fernando Romero
Ammonite by Fernando Romero

Four more vitrines showcase a selection of United Nude's previous designs, including 3D-printed shoes designed with Iris van Herpen that look like tree roots.

One display is dedicated to the evolution of Koolhaas' Möbius shoe, which he launched the company with in 1999.

  • rrrrich

    Step 1: make buildings that look like sex toys. Step 2: make shoes that look like dehumidifiers. Step 3: take over the world!

    • Meme

      Step two should be: make shoes that look like sexy buildings.

  • berrincchatzi

    Is there really anyone who will wear those shoes every day before going to work? Even if somebody wears, she can not work with them. So distracting!

    • amsam

      I think they’re party shoes. Although I would be pretty excited if I saw someone wearing them in the supermarket.

      • Lonn

        Someone at Wallmart, i.e. “People of Wallmart”.

    • I agree. Open toes are inappropriate for work attire.

  • Chris

    Seriously? And she wonders why people criticise her architectural buildings, I’m with Berrincchatzi on this, who is going to wear them… without looking like a plonker?!

    • amsam

      When you say “she,” are you referring to Rem Koolhaas, whose project this is, or the individual designers Ben van Berkel, Fernando Romero, Ross Lovegrove, and Michael Young? Or are you singling out Hadid? Because she’s so much more fun to hate on than dudes are? Her shoes are less plonkerish than the others by any measure.

      • Jaron Popko

        Actually United Nude is Rem D Koolhaas’s project, nephew of famed architect Rem Koolhaas.

  • Kevin Knox

    The Hadid design is very sexy in a witchy/Maleficent kind of way, but the other ones look like the protective wrap for computer hardware or exotic fruit.

  • berrincchatzi

    If I will stand like a statue, of course I can wear them!

  • guisforyou

    Are these examples of shoes not made for walking or humans (all the designs actually make Zaha’s design look tame)?

  • John

    This goes to prove that just because you can 3D print something, doesn’t mean you should.

    • Brennan Murray

      As someone who wears the occasional outrageous clothing item, I just want to say you can definitely pull off items like this especially in a design/creative work environment. Yes, every once in awhile you get the awkward stare. But most of the time you’re greeted with smiles and inquisitive minds/questions. As the community of individuals that are suppose to push the envelope and envision the future envisioning what could be.

      I agree with James and others. “This is a fantastic exploration of the technology” crafting a beautiful object that has a function. And functioning well enough (you can walk in the shoes some may work better than others) while meeting market of people that would actually purchase them and enjoy them.

      Of course these aren’t for everyone or every occasion, but they do have their own time and place. And they mainly serve as pieces that invoke new ideas and practices for the fashion industry, which impact a whole world of people, everything is tied to everything.

      One of these weird shoes could inspire Dries Van Noten Rodarte’ or any major fashion house to craft a one of a kind item, which then gets copied which then gets trickled down to H&M, Zara, and other mid level fashion chains finally reaching all the way down to Walmart, Kmart and other economic department stores. To where it has completely invaded “normal” everyday culture and inversely causes the entire fashion industry to change and move beyond and on the the next new thing. Think of all the jobs it could create and the people that one design can touch.

      I’ll leave you with a quote. The ever excellent Meryl Streep playing Mirand Priestly said it best:

      This… stuff’? Oh. Okay. I see. You think this has nothing to do with you. You go to your closet and you select… I don’t know… that lumpy blue sweater, for instance because you’re trying to tell the world that you take yourself too seriously to care about what you put on your back. But what you don’t know is that that sweater is not just blue, it’s not turquoise. It’s not lapis. It’s actually cerulean. And you’re also blithely unaware of the fact that in 2002, Oscar de la Renta did a collection of cerulean gowns.

      And then I think it was Yves Saint Laurent… wasn’t it who showed cerulean military jackets? I think we need a jacket here. And then cerulean quickly showed up in the collections of eight different designers. And then it, uh, filtered down through the department stores and then trickled on down into some tragic Casual Corner where you, no doubt, fished it out of some clearance bin. However, that blue represents millions of dollars and countless jobs and it’s sort of comical how you think that you’ve made a choice that exempts you from the fashion industry when, in fact, you’re wearing the sweater that was selected for you by the people in this room from a pile of stuff.

      • Kanye

        Zaha I’m a let you finish – but my Yeezy’s are the best shoes of all time!

  • M. Vitruvius

    “I really wanted to create… something that you remember,” added Koolhaas.

    Well, that worked. But not in a good way.

    • Zahaha has drunk the Koolaid.

  • George

    Women, if you want to be a cripple, walk in these shoes!

  • James

    This is a fantastic exploration of the technology! Of course they aren’t practical, but they’re not meant to be. This is all about pushing the boundaries and shocking people. It’s clearly working!

  • JennyX1

    Why use this amazing technology just to make impractical and uncomfortable shoes? People would be more interested if they were relatable products.

    • Lonn

      There are dozens of real-world problems that need solutions. Meanwhile, Hadid is pirouetting on the most faddish corner of culture. Surprised?

      • PT

        So let’s cancel all forms of art then? I even know some religious groups that would agree with you. How about you go solve world problems and let art critics talk about art, as most of you are clearly not qualified for that.

  • jt

    Some of these are really ugly.

  • Positrones

    I don’t get the complaints, these aren’t shoes for normal or even for party people, this is for a catwalk, this is for showing off, to test boundaries, to experiment with concepts and to fuse fields together. While I might not be fond of all of the designs (I find Zaha’s the most beautiful one), I’d love to see things like these being done more often! Excellent!

  • GeorgieGirl

    Romero’s red shoes look like they should be holding paper napkins at a Denny’s. C’mon, really. These awful, unstable designs must be research to see if anyone is actually gullible enough to wear them.

    How ugly! Large, chunky globs that treat the foot as an afterthought. Do we no longer believe that form follows function?

    • Kritiq

      Well said, now go to your closet and pick out anything that remotely has a heel on, and throw it in the trash.

  • Manijeh Lizárraga

    It’s funny how people commenting act as if they’re going to find these shoes at a Payless store. Really!

  • Too bad they can’t just print concrete blocks.

  • lkopferschmitt

    I’d rather walk on Lego.

    • nigel

      So do it and stop hating.

  • FigEater

    Simply putt: ugly. All of them. Ugly.

  • chris

    Looks like the bottom half of a minotaur. Ridiculous.

  • Garo Ungaro

    Sometimes designers go beyond the limits. Some designs are recipes for disaster. Functions and purpose create confusion. Simplicity is the hardest.

  • Paulo

    I actually saw these in Milan just now and it was magical. Reading some of the comments here makes me wonder. Most people here comment about these works of art with a clear lack of imagination and understanding. It’s like going to the louvre and complaining about a Picasso and how your 4 year old nephew can do better, or how it lacks functionality as a tablecloth. Art is about emotion and to provoke conversation and in this case also about experimenting with technology and breaking the silhouette etc. People who understand and feel it, love it, and some don’t, that’s called taste. Those who don’t understand it most likely hate it, and that can be an art or future phobia.

  • gpa

    More bullsh*t from architects that is for rich people. Totally impractical but very beautiful.

  • Bob Terry

    These are made as wearable pieces of art. If the art provokes strong emotions – pro or con – then it’s doing its job.

  • Patricio

    Innovation is never a matter of taste, so classifying it as “beautiful or ugly” makes no sense. The importance of innovation in design, architecture, art, etc, goes beyond the aesthetics.

    Good taste comes when something enters the mainstream, becoming attractive to the world, while innovation is before something hits the mainstream.

    Rem D. Koolhaas is trying to change fashion by attempting to use the most advanced technology today, instead of staying within the known. All the innovative projects push humanity forward, and this is one of them.

  • from Beijing

    Who said you should wear those to work? This is art. Jewellery for the feet… awesome.

  • Fabian

    Of course these shoes are a bit “different”, but 3D-printed shoes and insoles are really not a thing of the future. They are already used quite a lot: http://i.materialise.com/blog/entry/3d-printed-footwear-how-3d-printing-is-changing-racetracks-and-runways