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Adaptability And Transformation

Adaptability and Transformation in Architecture from Static to Dynamic

Arbil Algan

Published Apr 14, 2021

If we analyze the architecture of today, we see many static building forms.  If we think about architecture as ‘the art or practice of designing and constructing buildings’ (Cambridge Dictionary, 2018), these static forms seem outdated in this era when we are using and developing technology to work for our ever-changing needs. Of course, there are elements in architecture that are dynamic, for example kinetic facades and moveable walls. However, all of those elements are trapped in a static frame.

Meaning - Adaptability and Transformation

The terms ‘adaptability’ and ‘transformation’ can be defined in several different ways, depending on your perspective. Because of that, I want to give my perspective to both terms: adaptability - ‘fit for purpose’-  and transformation - ‘change for purpose’.  These terms were a hot topic during the early days of the modern architecture movement. In his ‘Brick Country House’ project, Mies van der Rohe created spaces through the composition of the walls; in his Masion de Verre, Pierre Chareau created spaces using furniture; and in his Schröder House, Gerrit Rietveld created spaces using movable elements. These are all interior related elements, whereby the frame of the building still remains the same. Modern architects used their design tools within a static frame to ‘adapt’ space and ‘transform’ it to their needs. The static part of their design is linked to the structure of the building. However, what happens if we can ‘adapt’ the structure to ‘transform’ the space?

Chuck Hoberman - Expandable Structures

“However, most of the proposed architected materials (also known as metamaterials) have a unique structure that cannot be reconfigured after fabrication, making each metamaterial suitable only for a specific task and limiting its applicability to well known and controlled environments” (Overvelde et al., 2017). Chuck Hoberman is an artist, engineer, architect, and inventor of folding toys and structures, most notably the ‘Hoberman sphere’. He came up with the idea of making expandable structures (figure 1). Related to my definition of ‘adaptability and transformation’ and the question ‘what happens if we can ‘adapt’ the structure to ‘transform’ the space?’, expandable structures are very interesting. If we look at the Hoberman Sphere we can see that the structure is dynamic yet the space becomes larger, but it is not transforming. The size of the sphere becomes larger, but basis of the shape is not changing.

Expandable structures can be linked to the ancient art of ‘origami’ and a modular technique called ‘snapology’. The difference between these two techniques is that origami techniques are based on two-dimensional folding patterns whereas snapology is a highly reconfigurable three-dimensional metamaterial assembled from extruded cubes (Overvelde et al, 2016). “Although these examples showcase the potential of origami-inspired designs to enable reconfigurable architected materials, they do not fully exploit the range of achievable deformations and cover only a small region of the available design space” (Overvelde et al, 2017). Clearly, we still have the idea that the structure is not transformable. However, is it possible to design objects that we can program to go from shape A to shape B, in a way that digital designers specify a shape, which then the technology can make physically happen?

Foldable Structures

This is where ‘Johannes T. B. Overvelde, James C. Weaver, Chuck Hoberman & Katia Bertoldi’ (2017) introduce a robust strategy for the design of 3D reconfigurable architected materials and show that a wealth of responses can be achieved in 3D assemblies of rigid plates connected by elastic hinges. To build these structures, periodic space filling tessellations of convex polyhedra are templates, and arbitrary combinations of the polygon faces are extruded. In such a design, qualitatively different responses can be achieved, including shear, uniform expansion along one or two principal directions, and internal reconfigurations that do not alter the macroscopic shape of the materials. The researchers put this information into an algorithm whereby they tested the designs by performing numerical simulations and characterizing the mobility of the systems, that is: the number of degrees of freedom (Overvelde et al., 2017). The results are geometric shapes that can be folded into other shapes and structures like tetrahedron, cube, octahedron, truncated, tetrahedron, etc (figure 2). Coming back to our question if it is possible to design objects that can be programmed to go from shape A to shape B, then we can see that the structure is dynamic and the whole volume is changing its form, so it deals with both ‘adaptability’ and ‘transformation’.

It is mystifying to think about these kind of structures in our static architectonic world, because all elements can move in the three dimensions, ‘x, y, and z’ (figure 3). “The reality is that you are only making one object, it isn’t like it goes from one mode to the other. It always has to negotiate the way that it reacts to the forces that takes place within the movement and the mechanism has to resolve all of these loads into what we might call a stable process” (Hoberman, 2015). This means that stability is a process and not a state and that there must be a balance between motion and structure. The art of architecture is not only the practice of designing but also of construction. Designing kinetic, mechanical and transformable architectonic structures should move in a safe and secure manner. This means, for example, that the craftsmanship has to be done with a lot of attention and focus on the details of the joints, the connections, the hinges and making it all work as a system.

References


Cambridge Dictionary, “Architecture,” dictionary.cambridge.org, 2018.

https:// dictionary.cambridge.org/dictionary/english/identity. [Accessed: 18-Sep- 2018].

Overvelde, J. T. B., Weaver, J. C., Hoberman, C., Bertoldi, K. (2017). “Rational design of reconfigurable prismatic architected materials.” Nature, 541 (7637), 347–352.

Overvelde, J., de Jong, T., Shevchenko, Y. et al. (2016) “A three-dimensional actuated origami-inspired transformable metamaterial with multiple degrees of freedom.” Nature Communications 7, 10929.

AA School of Architecture, EmTech Lecture, & Hoberman, C. (2015). Chuck Hoberman - Transformable: Building Structures that Change Themselves. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VesYwG4NBUs. [Accessed: September 19, 2018]

Visual Materials

Figure 1: Expandable structure; ‘Hoberman Sphere’

(Liberty Science Centre, See original patent for the Hoberman Sphere)

Figure 2: Geometric shapes that can be folded into other shapes and structures.

(from Overvelde, J. T. B., et al. 2017).

Figure 3.: Combination of foldable Geometric shapes.

(from Overvelde, J. T. B., et al. 2017).

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