Transformable Design Methods

Architects have long imagined a built environment that is fundamentally dynamic. Portable buildings, retractable coverings, kinetic facades, and spaces that morph: these transformable structures have become part of the lexicon of architectural possibilities. Despite this persistent interest, examples of truly dynamic buildings are few. Accordingly architectural design remains focused on developing objects that are essentially static. How can we understand transformation itself as a design parameter that can be shaped, crafted and optimized?

This course will provide a theoretical overview and practical methods for designing objects that can change their size, shape and surface. Our goal is to introduce new ways of thinking about design by developing structures that demonstrate real-time changes of morphology. To do this, we will draw on my practice as a builder of large-scale transformable installations—for public art, sets for live entertainment and kinetic elements in buildings. During the course we will discuss these projects, as well as those of historic and contemporary practitioners in this field.

Each class will introduce a different transformable typology—defined as a family of structures that share functional characteristics, such as patterns of connectivity and modes of transformation (e.g. expansion, surface modulation, shape-morphing). Lectures will include an overview of particular design methods associated with each typology.

The course will have a significant design component. Students will form groups that will organize a semester-long project to fabricate a physical piece demonstrating physical transformation. Groups may choose the emphasis of their projects according to their particular interests. Projects may range from full-scale operable architectural sections to scale-models that focus on broader architectural context.

Subjects covered in this course have some degree of mechanical complexity. So as to keep topics accessible, we will limit the engineering focus in favor of emphasizing a visual, design-oriented approach. That said, it is highly recommended that those taking this class have some prior experience with a) production of animations within a CAD environment and/or b) fabrication skills using computer-controlled machinery (e.g. laser-cutter or 3D printer).