IAAC's water-driven breathing skin material further advances technology in architecture

IAAC's water-driven breathing skin material further advances technology in architecture


the institute for advanced architecture of catalonia (IAAC) is a center for research, education, production and outreach, with the mission of envisioning the future habitat of our society and building it in the present. the aim of the institution is to expand the boundaries of architecture. in their latest project, water driven-breathing skin, students and faculty members develop a semi-passive material system for outdoor spaces in hot climates, where public space is less welcomed due to the summer heat.

breathing cell


sodium polyacrylate, one of the superabsorbent polymers in the hydromorph family, is the major material for the skin system in the wake of the preliminary study for its high capacity of volume change when absorbing water up to 300 times of its volume in a short time span. the IAAC‘s study furthered into the tests of compositing and encapsulating with facilitating materials in understanding material behavior, which has concluded on the encapsulation of sodium polyacrylate with elastic fabrics, followed by a library of experiments in shapes, patterns and size in an attempt to optimize open/close mechanism to capacitate passive ventilation and cooling in hot and dry summer climates.

the experiment aims to seek for the optimal way of creating cells in which sodium polyacrylate are encapsulated into fabric with variations in pocket



additionally, taking into account the lack of water in targeted climates, the system design contemplated on the supply of water. fog/dew collection is adopted as an established local intelligence and is a natural cyclical system requiring no further consumption, and is 15 times more water-efficient than that of a misting system commonly used. with the material system, ventilation and evaporative cooling are made possible semi-passively in a tensile-structured form where the breathing skin could take in multiple uses and forms. not only is it cost-effective in construction and maintenance, energy-efficient for areas in water shortage but also tensile and pliable for urban spaces.


water driven-breathing skin
video © montakan manosong 

sodium polyacrylate, also known as waterlock, is a sodium salt of polyacrylic acid with the chemical formula [-ch2-ch(co2na)-]n and broad application in consumer products

pattern exploration: number of spacing this test explores the relationship between the number of spacings with the firmness and effectiveness of closing behavior

[sodium polyacrylate 8g +100 + 100 ml: swelling test]
video © montakan manosong 

the material system is operating on the basis the above cycle where sodium polyacrylate starts from dry state, swollen state by absorbing water, evaporation state that performs cooling

the experiment seeks to answer the following questions: can spa cells create significant temperature reduction/humidity increase for a space than when without?

form finding design parameter

CFD wind flow simulation

skin system

prevailing winds breathing cells location and density.

water supply system

skin system 1-1 scale



project info:


senior faculty: areti markopoulou
fabrication expert: alexandre dubor
computational expert: angelos chronis
student: irene ayala castro, montakan manosong , ya chieh chang, zina alkani



designboom has received this project from our ‘DIY submissions‘ feature, where we welcome our readers to submit their own work for publication. see more project submissions from our readers here.


edited by: lynn chaya | designboom

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