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Student Showcase Archive

Sheila Clark

PhD Work

PhD work

Investigating Sustainable Material Solutions for Vehicles

This PhD by project focuses on design and making, using materials as an experimental research tool. It explores the use of more sustainable material solutions in relation to aspects of the car interior, scaling up from small experimental samples to exploring the potential of these materials as full scale replacement parts and producing, where possible, these pieces in conjunction with industry, in an industrial context, at production level, thereby demonstrating the feasibility of use to the automotive industry.

The support of several world leading manufacturers and suppliers has been gained and is instrumental to the success of the project and it’s outcomes.

Background research identified critical routes that could be employed which followed those advocated in ‘Cradle to Cradle’. These divide into two areas: using natural materials that biodegrade, or alternatively using synthetic materials that are reused/recycled. The research also investigates local supply and manufacture, in contrast to global solutions that are currently employed, as a more sustainable method.

This is a simple hypothesis that requires a complex understanding of the manipulation of and engineering of various materials to determine and balance the success of their potential applications in real terms. The research investigates some of the best, developed materials that fit into these parameters.

Ford have provided a pre-production Fiesta for these more sustainable parts to be applied to. The intention is to demonstrate the potential of such materials at full-scale, alongside their limitations and to showcase the success and or failure, by applying and fitting to an existing vehicle.

The originality of the research is through the initial sourcing, associated research and experimentation into a myriad of materials. Followed by the practical experimentation, realisation and application of parts at full-scale to the Fiesta.

This part-time PhD research by project will be completed in December 2013 and was commenced in October 2007.



  • PhD


    School of Design


    Vehicle Design, 2007–2015

  • Clark worked as a fine artist for many years but became disillusioned by the celebrity success of many contemporary artists.

    Following her passion for future trends and colour she focused on designing with a continuing interest and exploration of materials through making throughout her pioneering work.

    Inspiring other artists, designers and industrial manufacturers with her extensive knowledge of a myriad of materials and making processes alongside advocating the necessity for individuals and their experience being valued in manufacturing environments to facilitate knowledge transfer and ownership encouraging economic growth and reward within the company and for the individual.

    Previous Research

    Clark continues to be a part-time member of the technical support team in Fashion and Textiles, passing on knowledge to student’s college wide regarding yarns and fibres.

    The PHD follows a pump priming research project funded by the Staff Research and Development Fund at the RCA that resulted in critical acclaim. The resulting work, nine full-scale interior prototype pieces, was exhibited globally, in London, Japan and the United States and has been considered and represented as exemplar outcomes for project-based research. This research was preceded by a Churchill Traveling Fellowship that was awarded in 2002 to research the groundbreaking approach to textiles with specific reference to yarn innovation, which has in recent years emerged from Japan. Clark traveled within China and Japan and documented the experience and disseminated the findings in a written report illustrated with photographs and samples gathered on the journey.