Some of architecture’s most recent innovations, especially in the area of software development, have resulted from design firms investing significant resources into the development of new computational processes to create unprecedented forms. Yet while such efforts have brought form-making to new heights, equivalent advancement in the development of the building materials has lagged behind. While there are many reasons for this disconnect, advances in building-material options are further limited by the need to make buildings highly energy-efficient and sustainable.
Concern for the environment, climate change, global warming, carbon footprint, and the Heat-Island Effect has likewise risen to the forefront of politics in recent years. The demand for materials and processes to become more sustainable, green, and zero-energy has escalated. As transportation and industry were making progress in lowering emissions, building energy usage continued to use the bulk of overall energy in the United States. For many years architecture’s main culprit has been the heating, ventilation, and air conditioning systems (HVAC). I have dedicated the last half-decade of my research (both in my creative practice and within the efforts of my funded academic research) to advancing the “hard tech” side of building design. It is my strongest belief that, if we are to develop truly sustainable architecture, we don’t necessarily need more materials. We need smarter ones.
This interest led to my inquiries into the use of smart materials, i.e. materials that require no added energy and no computer controls to operate. I have been focusing my work on the testing of thermobimetal, a smart material that curls when heated (Fig. 1). Developing a diverse range of projects through various types of geometric manipulation and computationally aided fabrication, I have established myself as a leading scholar in this area of study. It is through the intensive exploration of thermobimetal that I have been able not only to expand the potential use of this product, but more importantly, to expand the conceptual foundation of materials research in my field by including the study of self-initiating dynamic operations.
Within the growing field of kinetic adaptive facades—a new segment of the building industry committed to the incorporation of moving parts on buildings for performative qualities—my work falls into a new category of responsive systems that can be termed active-passive. I have developed various innovative architectural applications using thermobimetal (a lamination of two alloys of nickel, manganese and iron with different thermal expansion coefficients), some of which are patented and being commercialized for market use. A core element of my research is based on the technical performance of the product and its ability to solve larger problems such as self-shading, self-ventilating, or self-assembling. However, I go beyond the application level to explore how geometric morphologies influence the behavior of smart materials for potential architectural applications.
IMPORTANCE OF GEOMETRY
In the development of responsive materials for building application, geometry plays a significant role on two levels: (1) in full range of dynamic motion, and (2) in the behavior of smart materials. These issues are specific to designing with shape-changing materials and are additional to the standard problems of digital fabrication. To consider the multitude of positions of the curl of each cut-out, the use of computational tools is critical to augment the limitations of the human intellect. The operation of a single piece in a tessellated matrix, relative to the source of heat and location of neighboring pieces, has major impact on the performance of the entire system.
--Doris Sung, 2016