Faculty Profile: Athina Papadopoulou

Assistant Professor
Architecture, Health and Design
Joined New York Tech
Long Island
Faculty Profile: Athina Papadopoulou

Wearable Architecture

Would you wear a shirt that helps you lower your stress during a presentation? What about a shirt that optimizes your performance when running? These ideas might seem right out of science fiction, but Assistant Professor of Architecture Athina Papadopoulou, Ph.D., believes these kinds of smart clothes are on their way to being a part of many wardrobes. Her work on these new materials, which she calls “affective matter,” is an offshoot of architecture and design and may have a significant impact on our daily style and improve the lives of people with disabilities.

“People often ask me how this work relates to architecture,” says Papadopoulou. “In my view, my approach to wearables is very architectural. I regard the materials I make that interact with the body not as ‘devices’ but as ‘wearable environments.’”

According to Papadopoulou, while the concept is high-tech, the notion is familiar. Humans are constantly responding to their environments. We react to light, temperature, and sound without even thinking about it. Designing clothing that responds to physiology by adjusting density, stiffness, or temperature is just the natural evolution of actions as simple as closing the blinds or putting in ear plugs.

“Since ancient times, people have been harnessing the sensory properties of their environments to enhance their health,” she says. “Practices like heliotherapy or hydrotherapy have been used for centuries. Our constructed environments can also have a great impact on our mood and well-being through the sound, light, and social interaction they afford—that is, for me, essentially what architecture is about. As architects, we design for experiences.”

Her current research on therapeutic affective garments addresses the needs of people with disabilities, such as autism spectrum disorder (ASD). In 2023, Papadopoulou received an Internal Support of Research and Creativity Grant as the principal investigator (PI) for the project “Therapeutic Affective Garments (TAG): Emotion Regulation via Haptic Feedback for Individuals with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD)” that she is conducting in collaboration with co-Pi Alexander Lopez, J.D., associate professor of occupational therapy. So far, Papadopoulou has designed items programmed to change temperature and shape and even produce a hugging feeling based on the wearers’ breathing rate. “We are testing how guiding the breathing through the haptic [relating to the sense of touch] feedback can either increase calmness or produce energizing feelings, thus helping people with either hyper-aroused (high sensitivity to stimuli) or hypo-aroused (low sensitivity to stimuli) profiles, respectively.”


Athina Papadopoulou’s research focuses on the design of affective material environments for the purpose of health and wellbeing. Her current project addresses the needs of people of disabilities. She is testing the impact of a pneumatic affective sleeve on individuals with autism spectrum disorder to enhance emotion self-regulation and cognitive performance.

“Therapeutic affective garments can take the form of a sleeve, vest, even socks and pants,” says Papadopoulou. “Currently, we are testing the impact of a pneumatic affective sleeve on individuals with ASD to enhance self-emotion regulation and cognitive performance. I am simultaneously developing a programmable huggable vest and experimenting with a programmable glove to aid in hand mobility and control issues.”

Aiding people with ASD is just the beginning. Papadopoulou feels the practical applications of this technology can be far-reaching and life changing. “We might be able to address blood circulation issues and athletic performance through breathing control. I have also conducted research in haptic communication via programmable wearable environments that potentially can be useful for nonverbal individuals or neurotypicals in remote locations.”

Part of the overall mission is to de-stigmatize disabilities through design. “Think about eyewear. Most of us have eye problems, and the eye glasses are a medical prosthetic. These have become so fashionable that some people wear eyeglasses even when their eyes are perfectly fine,” she says. “So, can we make hearing devices so beautiful that people without hearing loss want to wear them?”

By developing affective matter, Papadopoulou hopes to design clothes and environments that will make the future look and feel more inclusive for all.