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Kinetic Architecture (3/3)

upgrated video 04/07/09

Topotrnsegrity – Non – Linear Responsive Environments – Robert Neumayr

Following on from some of the ideas in the previous post Topotransegrity designed by Robert Neumayr explores how a responsive architecture can be introduced in public spaces challenging long-held assumptions about architecture as a passive arrangement It investigates todays networked ways that enable architecture itself to operate as an intelligent interface that connects spaces, users and performance criteria In real time and the impact such spatial configurations have on urban space and urban public life.

Topotransegrity is a kinetic structure, which constantly evaluates Its surroundings and reconfigures according to these changing conditions. It is a generic responsive structural system, which adapts to isolated spatial requirements. The structure is capable of various transformations, which range from small-scale surface articulations to large surface deformations, which can generate temporary enclosures. Such a responsive structure can multiply. Intensify and vary the potential uses of public spaces, which usually rely on external intervention to host new activities. Sensors, input devices and wireless networks are integrated into normally dead building materials to transform architectural space into complex intelligent operating systems.

The programme mode automates the basic functions of the structure. Directly related to the specific event schedule of its environment It drives the generic transformations, initiating and locating the deformations that control the access and the circulation within the public spaces. It also generates small emergent temporary spaces, which host ancillary programmes related to ongoing events. Finally it enables certain tiles of the structure’s sheared surface to pivot and thus allow for temporarily different degrees of transparency within the structures spatial arrangement

The crowd mode responds in real time to the movements and behavioural patterns of the visitors within the structure. It Influences the size, orientation and development of the temporary enclosures, previously established by the programme mode. Finally it affects the orientation of the surface’s tiles, based on the positions and sizes of the visitor crowds.

Finally the memory mode records, on a long-term basis, the paths and motion patterns chosen by Individual users, influencing the surface topography by indicating and levelling the most frequented parts. It defines the actual width of circulation spaces, temporary level connections, entrance areas and thresholds according to the number of visitors at every point in time during the period of use.

These three parallel modes of operation run simultaneously and add up to the structure’s complex, unpredictable user-dependant spatial configuration. The constantly changing three-dimensional space envelope interacts with its visitors in a permanent feedback loop, where the users reactions to spatial adaptation are fed back into the system to in turn update the spatial arrangements and individually customize the built environment to requirements at any given moment for any given pattern of use.

Leisurator – Adaptive Leisure Generator Field for Metropolitan Areas

Leisurator designed by by Nilufer Kozikoglu, Marco Pastore, and Valentina Sabatelli, with the consultancy of Arup & Buro Happold, speculate a future reconfigurable architecture that engenders a variety of leisure, sport and improvisational activities. This event space is programmed with a set of variable configurations, the transformations of which offer emergent conditions suggestive of alternate social organization and cultural dimensions of game-like activities.


Video 1 Video 2 Presentation

The proposed interactive architecture could respond in two ways to the users. First, the kinetic mechanism will adapt to the existing programs and consider external factors such as weather.

Secondly, the adjacencies and relationship in each of these configurations is to catalyze new way of using surfaces, walls and edges of the field, providing both defined boundaries for existing leisure activities (e.g., tennis, jogging, playground), surfaces for non-formalized games (e.g., skating, casual play, etc.), and zones which allow the occupation of space in a game-like manner.

Although there are some obvious technical difficulties with trying to design a feasible reconfiguring space especially on this scale I think what’s most interesting element in this project is not that the whole space can change shape to cater for various different sports but that it suggests that the shifting boundaries between differing activities could generate new hybrid activities

Could buildings Morph to optimum spatial efficiency

image from trans_PORTs 2001 Kas Oosterhuis
With the ideas going on at Game Set Match II in interactive adaptive architecture an interesting bit of news has come from the MIT .

MIT engineers report they may have found a way for structures and materials to morph from one shape into another. The discovery could lead to an airplane that morphs on demand from the shape that is most energy efficient to another better suited to agility, or to a boat whose hull changes shape to allow more efficient movement in choppy, calm or shallow waters. The question is, could a building do the same?

via we-make-money-not-art

Muscle – HRG and ONL

One more project from the Hyperbody Research Group . I’ve been in Amsterdam for the weekend and now on my way to Delft for the Game Set Match II conference held by the Hyperbody Research Group and ONL Architects

One of the things that I’ve said before on interactive architecture dot org is that I really respect the way the Hyperbody Research Group and ONL Architects don’t just speculate on interactive kinetic architecture but actually build prototypes based on their ideas. Here’s Muscle NSA which was realized as a working prototype of the concepts Kas Oosterhuis explored in the Trans_PORTs project (2001).

Video of Trans_PORTs project

The MUSCLE programmable building is a pressurized soft volume wrapped in a mesh of tensile muscles, which change length, height and width by varying the pressure pumped into the muscle. Visitors of the Architectures Non Standard exhibition play a collective game to explore the different states of the MUSCLE. The public interacts with the MUSCLE by entering the interactivated sensorial space surrounding the prototype. This invisible component of the installation is implemented as a sensor field created by a collection of sensors. The sensors create a set of distinct shapes in space that, although invisible to the human eye, can be monitored and can yield information to the building body. The body senses the activities of the people and interacts with the players in a multimodal way. The public discovers within minutes how the MUSCLE behaves on their actions, and soon after they start finding a goal in the play.

The outcome of this interaction however is unpredictable, since the MUSCLE is programmed to have a will of its own. It is pro-active rather then responsive and obedient. The programmable body is played by its users. A constant play of conjointly effectuating (re)actions, of attraction and repulsion between all players involved. This game truly is a multi-player game. Now true communication is established, where the pro-active parties involved alternately sense, process, and actuate in this constant loop of mutual influence. The players experience this parametric game of architecture as a form of serious fun. The design is the formula, the playing of the game means setting the parameters.


Website (german)

Bitfall is an installation where water is being used to project images taken from the internet. A computer observes various news websites and chooses thereafter the images to be displayed. 128 nozzles are controlled by synchronised magnetic valves, and the water drops falling to the ground shape the images. The visual information is only tangible for a second before the drops merge to become water again.

via infosthetics

BioWall – Loop.pH

“ As it becomes increasingly difficult to read the signs of our natural environment in urban, built landscapes we use plants in our work as we consider them to be the most sophisticated of sensors and displays. ”

An interesting thought. Last year I posted info about Loop.pH ’s practice and their project digital dawn . Here’s their most recent project BioWall which following their work using electronic membranes and textiles inspired by plants is now exploring working with actual plant matter in the hope of growing spaces with a geometric scaffold.

BioWall is a hand woven three-dimensional structure that can be crafted into lace-like walls of any dimension. Springy fiberglass rods are bowed into rings and woven into several dodecahedra that in turn are joined together. The woven fibres create a balance between the rigidity of sheet material and the flexibility of a textile. The structure is based on the principle of self-similarity enabling it to work from the nano to the macro scale. It can be seen in our natural environment in the formation of bubbles, living cells and water molecules.

thanks to Rachel of Loop.pH for letting me know about their new project. It is currently on show till April 9th as part of an exhibition presenting New British Designers at Droog Design ’s gallery in Amsterdam.

Feel – Animi Causa

Okay so this isn’t interactive but it is reconfigurable and thats enough for me. Here’s the beautifully simple piece of furniture from Animi Causa called Feel. It’s a grid of 120 soft balls that can be folded and arranged to create multiple seating or reclined positions.

Dynamic Terrain – Janis Pönisch

My Personal Interests within Interactive Architecture are surrounding Kinetic interaction and adaptive space so I was pleased when Janis Pönisch got in touch about his project Dynamic Terrain. Janis explains below his intentions for the installation and its relatioship with potential future forms of interactive architecture.

“Dynamic Terrain is a dynamic architectonic robotic surface. It demonstrates a possible future of an interactive system that forms our surrounding depending on the action taken by the user. It wants to be a creature that we communicate to and play with. It functions as a skin that holds the human body in a dynamic and creative way. It is an area in which to experience the mix of digital and physical space. It is a surface without a fixed form, its form is virtual, and therefore adjustable and erasable. In a utopia of this prototype we live together with architectural bodies that respond to our actions.” Janis Pönisch


The shape of the surface is controlled by the users through a software interface. A three dimensional wireframe model can be distorted and its topological information is being translated in real time to the physical shape. On the surface are also touch sensors that allow the users to move the control points up and down overruling the software positioning. The surface is made of flexible rubber that is stretched by a metal construction underneath. Eight drilling machines are the powering forces directed by micro controllers that are connected to a computer.

Theo Jansen’s – Evolving Species

Video one of Theo’s Creatures Walking

Theo Jansen spoke at the Bartlett School of Architecture last week leaving his audience of students and professors all gasping for air with excitement, full of new ideas about the potential of even the simplest of objects when passionately investigated. I had my tongue hanging out of my mouth dreaming up new projects for my interactive architecture research.

Theo is a rare breed of passionate technologist who understands not just the potential of digital technology but the potential of even the seemingly mundane materials we all take for granted. I’m also excited to hear that he will be building one of these incredible creatures in Trafalgar Square, London with its very own sand pit.

For well over a decade Theo Jansen has rigorously experimented ‘with the making of a new nature. Not pollen or seeds but plastic yellow tubes are used as the basic material of this new nature.’ He talked about how protein acts as the key element in the structure and functioning of all living cells and that he wanted to use his own protein (plastic tubes) to act as the building block for his very own creations.

Starting out initially on his Atari STe, he programmed evolving species that tested how to build walking legs from 7 varying lengths and through natural selection was able to find quite accurate measurements of the perfect ratio of configuration.

The next stage in the evolution of these creature’s mechanics was to build prototypes using just the plastic tubes and test them in real world environments. Many years later he has created fantastic walking creatures that have evolved in complexity but still using this simple building block.

Video of Animaris Geneticus

Video of Animaris Currens Ventosa waving

Further developments have used wind energy to transfer energy into the creatures giving them the ability to walk up and down the beach he tests them out on. He then began giving them the ability to pick up sand and water so that they could tell if they were about to walk off into the sea or get stuck in the dryer sand higher up the beach. His creations are now able to make decisions on their environment and avoid hazardous environments much like evolving species learn to do.

natural selection hasn’t favored this species

He has started using more advanced air systems which he hopes the creatures will be able to use to collect air themselves and compress it to power pressurized pneumatic devices. What’s most exciting is that he has devised a system of valves that act as yes/no logic gates for the pressurized air which could eventually be built up to process simple logic and develop a primitive form of intelligence. In all seriousness he suggested that eventually he wants these creatures to be able to think for themselves and reproduce.

Some might assume that these ideas are verging on the side of crazy but what I love is his passion for dreaming the impossible and seemingly managing to progress towards it with every new mutation in his species development.

A Render of one of his future visions

Theo’s Website



Greyworld are a group of london based artists who have produced a number of beautiful and subtle pieces of interactive architecture. Above is their piece The Source, installed in the main atrium of the new London Stock Exchange in July 2004. A cube of 9×9×9 (729 in total) spherical balls are suspended on strings that stretch 32 metres up to the top of the main atrium of the newly designed building. These balls, controlled by a computer running Python scripts, can reposition themselves independently of each other, forming dynamic shapes and fluid-like motions that reflects the nature of the stock market itself. Each morning, upon the opening of the London Stock Exchange, the balls awake from their cube arrangement and begin to form patterns. Similarly, at the end of each day’s trading, the balls fall back into their cube arrangement, and an animated arrow is shown using the blue LEDs inside the balls to show how the stock market performed on that particular day.

Check out Chris O’Sheas interview with Andrew Shoben of Greyworld.

AutoGene – Dancing Umbrellas

See Video
A Bit slow to start but gets better as it goes on

AutoGene A Choreographed kinetic sculpture by Peter William Holden using umbrellas automated like pistons producing a charming performance to Gene Kelly Classic, ‘Singing in the Rain’

From an interactive architecture perspective I can imagine this sorts of systems being connected to devices such as Leonardo Amerigo Bonanni’s proposed Blue Sky kinetic roof.

Also See wmmna’s recent post of an adaptive ‘polite umbrella’ for navigating through spaces that are usually problematic.

Video of Polite Umbrella




  1. The Seiko kinetic watch uses the movement of the wearer’s arm to produce the electrical energy to keep the watch running.

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