IAAC students create responsive architectural material system
all images courtesy of ramin shambayati, ece tankal, and efilena baseta
‘translated geometries’ is a masters research project that has been developed by the minds of institute for advanced architecture of catalonia (IAAC) students ramin shambayati, ece tankal, and efilena baseta. the work proposes an ‘architecture of transition’ – a series of transformations between forces, material phases, people, spaces, and functions. form does not always follow the functions that we cannot predict, but rather the phases that our new built environments can go through in their relationship with humans, nature, and existing buildings.
according to the team, ‘what our architecture may lack in a set style and goals is compensated in its ability to harness flows of energy and information in its various transitions. by treating our architecture as a homogenous system we give it the potential for infinite personalization based on control over specific spatial parameters. these parameters will define processes and reasons for change in architecture rather than finite and ultimately outdated states. having said this, we cannot expect changes in our spaces and structures if the fundamental basis of architectural construction, the material, is still viewed as a sedentary element in our systems. a thorough understanding of smart materials and properties suitable for an adaptable architecture is therefore essential in gaining an understanding of their countless possibilities and limitations.’
during the design process, the collective worked with shape memory polymers (SMP) in order to apply it to a responsive prototype. as the concept was based around the motif of evolution, it was necessary to use a material that could change phase from an external and controlled stimuli. therefore, the SMP is able to reach a soft and flexible state upon exposure to heat above its glass transition temperature (Tg) of around 60-70°C, at which point it can undergo vast geometrical deformations. upon reheating, the polymers then revert to their original ‘memory’ state of flatness.
SMP material behaviour
to best suit the need for structural adaptability, the students needed to find a geometry that could arrive on site in an original condition and then have the capacity to deform or expand into a desired shape from actuation forces. therefore, a somewhat foldable structure was proposed for its ability to render these results, which is why they looked into rigid origami patterns, namely that of origami pioneer, mathematician, and artist ron resch. after much experimentation the collective finally settled with the triangulated tessellation design.
SMP joint embedded with heat wire (left), testing heating of joint (right)
after numerous tests and experiments, it was decided that hexagonal nodes of the pattern should hold most control over the overall deformation of the triangulated tessellation, dependent on their expansion or contraction. performing as a structural joint, the SMP is cut into a six-sided shape and placed at these intersections of the geometry’s mountains and valleys. apart from these nodes, the rest of the folds are replaced by regular hinges, which act in tandem with the position of the panels around them.
the final prototype is an attempt to push the concept to a functioning 1:1 scale, shown with a cluster of 7 units. the key feature in this version is the introduction of a buffering wedge in between the SMP joint and the triangulated panel. the wedge’s function is two-fold. firstly, it acts to take most of the shape memory property of the material. as a result the polymer is in its original flat memory state when the component is at its most closed and acute angle. this means that reversion to the original closed triangulation condition is embedded within the material system. secondly, the wedge introduces physical constraints in the opening and closing of the modules. when it reaches its furthermost extents, the sides push against each other and limit any further movement.
single component exploded axonometric
the heating is applied uniformly across the structure through a parallel circuit connected to the embedded constantan heat wires, which allows the group to pick and choose specific applications of temperature increases to the test model. the copper-nickel alloy takes under three minutes to manipulate the SMP into its rubbery glass transition state (Tg), after which a deformation can be made, and upon disabling of the heat, the material cools and stiffens (within 2 minutes) to hold the new shape. ‘this worked quite well, however, we propose a much more advanced system for the vision of the component in the grander scheme. we envision each triangulated component to be a self-containing unit, housing a small battery and wirelessly controlled microcontroller housed in an electronics component attached to the underside of the panel, which are powered by the solar fabric embedded in the equilateral triangles surrounding the middle component. in this way we create a self-sustaining unit that can be controlled individually and remotely, without any need for wiring between units,’ said the studio. given that it is the chosen assemblage of units that determined the normal form and scale, one is free to design any desired grouping of components. micro energy production occurs at every node, and each local release of energy through warming the material with heat wires informs the global deformation of the structure.
each unit has a self-contained electronics component powered by solar energy harvesting
the actuation for the distortion is achieved through the force of pulling by many octocopter drones. the technological devices are used because they are the perfect mobile scaffolding system and represent a new breed of artificial intelligence that can both be pre-programmed or have the ability to learn based on specific parameters or act in a swarm fashion. from a flat position, where the entire structure is heated, the helicopters pull at specific points and raise the structure into the desired place, upon which holding until the polymers cool, at which point the new shape is held. the drone, either controlled by human or responding to specific environmental parameters, is also able to communicate with the microcontroller of each unit, establishing a communication between local nodes and global intentions. this process can be repeated indefinitely, as the structure is able to respond to a given atmosphere or user’s preferences for various spatial configurations in a constantly transformable multi-purpose space. these transitions, whether they are ongoing, or frozen in a specific time or setting, define the evolving personality of our never-ending translatable geometries.
expansion from gravity
open / closed states
SMP joint at each hexagonal node
drone actuation at hexagonal nodes