The research project COBBLERATION promotes critical footwear design by:

(1) innovating applied design practices, (2) stimulating fundamental research in design anthropology via research on body-culture connections and foot behavior. We focus on (i) the design of footwear that improves the health of people and environment, (ii) design processes that strengthen communities through cooperative activities, and (iii) the role of walking as part of culture and identity. The latter involves research on how indigenous groups use walking, footwear, and co-creation processes to assert identity, values, and community and to connect to ancestors, space, and the non-human world. 

COBBLERATION builds on the research lines first formulated in 2015 during Willems' PhD and elaborated on in the research project Future Footwear 2.0. Within this project the collaboration with artists and scientists of the Four Corner region (USA) takes a prominent place. Partnering institutes are the Dine College's Navajo Cultural Arts program in Tsaile, and Crow Canyon Archaeological Center in Cortez.

Walking Track: a collaborative action between Native American, American and Belgian artists and scientists. The Walking Track reveals the practice of making footwear and walking within cultural and historical contexts, prompting a reflection on one's own walking patterns. Footwear, footprints, migration histories, and beliefs are all intricately interconnected, providing evidence of past land use and occupation. Credit: future footwear foundation
3D printed sandal depiction based on local vegetation Four Corner Region (USA). The model was exhibited at “Nizhónígo Yííkado – We Walk in Beauty“ in Pilar, VUB, at the end of 2022. Credit: Catherine Willems
Test your toe strength. The more you train your toe muscles, the stronger your feet become. Stronger toes improve your balance. The newly developed device is part of the Walking Track, and was exhibited at Pilar, VUB, at the end of 2023. Credit image: David Willems
4. Opening event "Nizhónígo Yííkado - We Walk in Beauty" in Pilar, VUB, at the end of 2022. Credit image: David Willems


project team
Catherine Willems
16.01.2022 – 15.01.2028
design anthropology, biomechanics, cooperative production, footwear, walking, ontology, nature-culture divide, new technology