Smart Materials: Design Issues and Applications

Smart Materials, long the mainstay of advanced engineering applications, have begun to join the palette of fashionable materials for architecture. High visibility projects, elaborate installation designs, and any construction with an \”intelligent\” component have foregrounded their use of smart materials as a demonstration of the technological possibilities offered by borrowing these materials that had been developed for highly specific uses in other fields. In addition, there has been much speculation that further integration of these materials into architectural design will afford the opportunity to solve many long-standing problems in regard to the energy consumption of buildings.In the push to adopt these materials, we may be overlooking their potential to reinvent building systems, rather than using them simply to optimize the systems that we currently use. Our conventional building materials and systems have steadily evolved over centuries such that knowledge derived from experience continues to serve as our guide for application. Smart materials, however, are products from other fields and disciplines altogether, in which we, as designers, possess neither experience nor the fundamental knowledge. As a result, we try to insert them as components into our static and unwieldy building systems. But smart materials are a revolutionary shift away from our normative practice, and the pattern for technology transfer must be redevised. How can we begin to exploit the true potentials of these materials which are everything that our current technologies are not?This seminar will overview the basic characteristics and families of smart materials, with a special focus on materials and technologies that have a relationship to vision. We will examine, in depth, materials and technologies such as LEDs, displays and interactive surfaces and explore some of the contemporary experiments taking place in the architecture profession. Throughout the semester, we will have the opportunity to interact with the some of the well-known architects who are at the heart of the current experimentation, as well as with lighting designers and manufacturers. Students will be required to be able to coherently discuss the material fundamentals and comprehensively analyze the current applications. The course will culminate with each student focusing on a material characteristic with which explore different means of technology transfer in order to begin to invent unprecedented approaches and applications.