University of Calgary

Vera Parlac on Responsive Architecture

Submitted by jwalla on Wed, 2012/05/16 - 1:42pm.

Over the past decade, there has been an increasing interest in exploring the capacity of built spaces to respond dynamically and adapt to changes in the external and internal environments and to different patterns of use. Such explorations are technologically and socially motivated, in response to recent technological and cultural developments. Advances in embedded computation, material design, and kinetics on the technological side, and increasing concerns about sustainability, social and urban changes on the cultural side, provide a background for responsive/interactive architectural solutions that have started to emerge.

This responsive architecture project presents an ongoing design research driven by an interest in adaptive systems in nature and a desire to explore the capacity of built spaces to respond dynamically. The project underlines architecture’s inseparable link to technology and projects a vision of architecture that, through its capacity to change and adapt, becomes an integrated, responsive, adaptive and productive participant within larger ecologies.

The SKiN project consists of small scale prototypes of an adaptive kinetic surface capable of spatial modulation and response to environmental stimuli. The emphasis of the project is on the nature of material systems in the built environment and their capacity for change and adaptation. Elements, structure, surface and performance of this networked kinetic material system are designed as integrated layers that make up a “tissue” capable of accommodating dynamic nature of human occupation.

The “Soft” Kinetic Network (SKiN) surface is organized around the network of embedded “muscle” wires that change shape under electric current. The network of wires provides for a range of motions and facilitates surface transformations through soft and muscle like movement. The material system developed around the wire network is variable and changes its thickness, stiffness, or permeability within its continuous composite structure. The variability in the material system enables it to behave differently within surface regions; to vary the speed and degree of movement; to vary surface transparency; to enable other levels of performance such as capture of heat produced by the muscle wire and distribution of heat within the surface regions. The main idea is that variability of the material system can bring us closer to the seamless material integration found in biological organisms.

The focus on seamless material integration and capturing of emitted energy hints at our broader goal that architectural intervention should find a more productive place within larger ecologies. I am very much interested in suspending a challenge of finding a non-permeable and clearly defined boundary between inside and outside in exchange for a surface that fosters constant flow of information, matter and energy. This project is situated between several disciplinary territories. By exploring theories, techniques and tools of architecture, engineering, material science and cybernetics the goal is to develop technologies and designs that are capable of transforming static building components into active responsive surfaces that produce added functionalities in architectural and urban environments.

Vera Parlac is an Assistant Professor of Architecture at EVDS.

Click here to view Parlac's faculty profile and/or learn more about EVDS faculty research.