Morphing architecture with responsive material systems by Chin Koi Khoo

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My research focuses design issues in architecture that can change its shape and other properties in response to changing external stimuli. Previous research has considered whether architecture can morph using ‘hard’ mechanical hinges, components, and systems for actuation and kinetic transformation. Few have explored the ‘soft’ alternatives. In my research I explore whether there is an opportunity for using a ‘soft’ system approach that exploits the performance of responsive materials when applied to lightweight, flexible and adaptive architectural designs that respond to environmental and lighting stimuli. I investigate unexplored approaches using responsive and ‘soft’ form-changing materials. This investigation presents opportunities for designing responsive morphing architecture with ‘hingeless’ actuation and transformation.

My research aim is to investigate novel design strategies for responsive kinetic architecture through the exploration of alternative material systems and design tools with sensing and responsive capacities. This aim is investigated and evaluated through a ‘Design Tetralogy’, of four experimental design investigations in the form of architectural skins and envelopes as project works, namely Tent, Curtain, Blind and Blanket. Each focuses on an individual research area: elasticity, Tensegrity, kinetic materiality and sensitivity. The investigations were conducted using a rigorous method called responsive kinetic material system (RKMS), based on the concept of soft kinetics. This concept served as the ‘guiding principle’ for using he interchange of elasticity and memory in the properties of form-changing materials to affect physical transformation and kinesis in architecture.

All four design investigations involved a series of conceptual prototypes as ‘reciprocal interventions’ to retrofit existing buildings. These prototypes serve as novel hybrid material systems, and as evidence to demonstrate the potential for practical applications of responsive morphing architecture with minimal, mechanical and discrete components that sense real-time data, manipulate daylight effects and perform active illumination. The outcomes and findings of my project-based design investigations contribute to early-stage design strategies for architects and designers to model morphing architecture through parametric design processes with responsive material explorations and accessible technologies.

I conclude from my research that through the exploitation of alternative form-changing material systems with responsive capacities and novel tools, an alternative design paradigm for responsive morphing architecture can be conceived. This paradigm is based on anticipation of a new material culture in which physical computation is synthesised with dynamic material properties. This synthesis produces an atypical model as an alternative to mainstream architectural design research and practice for responsive kinetic architecture.


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