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 are part of the lexicon of architectural possibilities. Yet despite this persistent interest, examples of dynamic buildings are few, and architectural design remains focused on static objects. 

This course is intended for students interested in how to create products, buildings, and environments that utilize physical transformation to realize enhanced performance and engagement. We will cover the theory, methodology, and application of “transformable design.” In this course, you will learn how transformation itself is a design parameter that can be shaped, crafted, and optimized. 

Creating a mechanism that converts a simple push or pull into an overall metamorphosis of its size and shape is based on kinematics—the foundation of mechanical design. Using these techniques, students will learn how to program an object’s behavior by designing its form. 

Building on this design foundation, we will explore how to take this new discipline into the real world. From my own practice, we will draw on a series of pioneering projects for public art, stage sets, deployable shelters, adaptive facades, and retractable roofs. We will learn how these projects were developed and also look at case studies of historic and contemporary practitioners in this field. 

It is an exciting time to practice this new discipline. New technologies are enabling us to implement transformable strategies in unprecedented ways. We will learn about parametric algorithms to simulate physical movement, digital fabrication techniques for mechanisms, use of inexpensive actuators and control systems, and building mechanical function through multimaterial hybrids. 

Course format: Our emphasis goes beyond technology, and we will apply these practical methods to your creative designs. As a seminar/workshop, course assignments will be staged in two parts. For the first part, students will create a series of mechanism studies to reinforce understanding of lecture topics and provide a hands-on familiarity with mechanical interaction. During the second half, students will form groups to organize final projects that demonstrate physical transformation. Past projects have included deployable pavilions, dynamic facades, and other interactive installations. These projects are exciting opportunities not only to think about but actually demonstrate new possibilities for transformable architecture.