Architecture, Carbon Fiber, and OESH

Of late, I’ve been interacting quite a bit with the University of Virginia School of Architecture. Probably has something to do with the fact that the renowned professor and former Dean of the School, Karen Van Lengen, is an avid OESHer and very good friend. Karen has gotten the School of Architecture turned on to OESH and everyone in her family is now wearing them as well. Of my many appointments I had at UVa (in the School of Medicine, School of Engineering, School of Education, and the Athletics Department), I never officially worked with the School of Architecture, until now.

Next month the School is putting together an exhibit and public forum called Mapping Materials. This endeavor, spearheaded by a number of Architecture faculty, will help lay the groundwork for building a materials library and database. The purpose of the database is to facilitate novel approaches to incorporating different types of material into design practice and research. In this respect, I’m honored to have been invited to present the OESH Shoe design, with special reference to the use of carbon fiber.

Here is my 500-word synopsis and the photo that will be included in the exhibit:

The carbon fiber midsole design of the OESH shoe was borne from my 20+ years of studying gait (walking and running) and the effects of footwear using 3-D motion analysis and instrumented force plates. The OESH midsole comprises a series of V-shaped carbon fiber units oriented in the sole such that they compress and release in tune with when lower extremity joint forces and pressures are at their highest. Current (non-OESH) athletic shoes can cushion the inconsequential forces that occur at impact but none effectively compress and release when the large joint forces and pressures associated with osteoarthritis and other injuries actually occur.

It has been known for some time that a truly compliant surface, i.e., one that can be demonstrated to compress and release in tune with when forces and pressures are their highest, reduces injuries. For example, the Harvard Indoor Track, which comprises a series of plywood sheets draped over wood supports, provides measurable compliance and has been shown to reduce injury rate by 50%. However, getting that same type of ground surface compliance into a shoe sole had never been achieved.

The critical factor in designing a shoe sole that provides effective compliance was to understand the natural progression of forces through the foot that occur when walking, running or even just while standing. The design and orientation of the V-shaped units are such that they do not work against but rather work with this natural progression of forces that occurs consistently in every person, no matter what foot or “gait” type one has.

To be effective, the V-shaped units needed to be able to support a body weight ranging from 80 to 300 pounds. After constructing prototype shoes with carbon fiber units and demonstrating their effectiveness in the gait laboratory, the next step was to establish a mechanism to mass produce the units. I set up a factory here in Charlottesville where I use a process called filament winding which is more typically used with carbon fiber to make casings for rocket motors. Carbon fiber is wound through an epoxy resin around a mandrel that forms the V-shaped units. After the fiber is wound, the composite is heat cured and then cut into their final forms using a CNC waterjet saw. The entire process is fully automated. We have been producing and selling OESH shoes now since 2011 with great success. See for more details.

The display will run from February 5-25 in Campbell Hall’s Elmaleh Gallery at the University of Virginia. If you are in the area or are planning on a trip to the OESH factory then, check it out!

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