Technology is currently emerging and taking the lead into the architectural sector, suggesting new opportunities and a new way to interpret building design. Technological components can respond to the challenges of the construction sector with innovative adaptive solutions, able to modify their performances in relation to the surrounding environment, but they often require lot of energy to function and high degree of control during operation, resulting often not convenient.

On the wake of these premises, the Institute for Advanced Architecture of Catalonia in Spain, is currently experimenting the possibility of creating building components able to change in time, adapting to different environmental conditions or performance requirements, but with zero-energy input, exploiting the full potential of the most innovative construction materials, such as the smart materials. These class of materials is designed to show a predictable and measurable response to an external input. In particular, the smart materials called shape memory alloys are used because of their property of “remembering” their original shape so that, when deformed, they are able to return to their pre-deformed shape with a characteristic input temperature. These alloys are lightweight, solid-state, resistant, and they can be used as a convenient alternative to conventional actuators.

Part of this ongoing research, “Self-adaptive Membrane” is a study and a built project developed in 2015 by Master’s students Nohelia Gonzalez and Shreyas More.

In order to allow the highest quality and applied research, the Master’s for Advanced Architecture proposes a multidisciplinary approach, considering architecture as a transversal field, for which it is imperative to integrate all research and applications with the knowledge of different fields of expertise.

“Self-adaptive Membrane” is a system with an active reversible behaviour, but provided of a passive activation, and with no need for energy to perform in the long term.

The project uses one of the most known shape memory alloy, the Nitinol, a composition of Nickel and Titanium. The Nitinol springs are able to react changing their shape when heated by light radiation.

The “Self-adaptive membrane” is a deployable unit, composed of two complementary components: kinetic joints made with these shape memory alloys, which work as actuators, and a tessellation geometry, which determines the folding pattern of the membrane.

Joints and tessellation work together as an integrated system, responding to the solar radiation by folding in real time without any energy input and with a reversible behaviour.

This project opens new horizons of architectural experimentation, creating a new generation of adaptive architecture that is inexpensive during operation and energy independent.

Possible applications envisioned for the “Self-adaptive membrane” see the creation of new adaptive lightweight envelopes, capable of transforming in relation to the position of the sun and able to provide a passive strategy for the control of the natural illumination.

The design is also suited to other small-scaled applications, for example  the membrane can be used as an individual shelter, a sort of helmet, to protect the user from strong solar radiation in extreme environmental conditions.

Design team: Nohelia Gonzalez, Shreyas More

Assistant faculty: Alexandre Dubor

Computational expert: Carlos Bausa

Project Year: 2015

Images:  all images courtesy of the Institute for advanced architecture of Catalonia, Spain