RS.3 Research Studio

Faculty: Areti Markopoulou, David Andrés León
Fabrication Assistant: Raimund Krenmüller
Student Assistant: Nikol Kirova

In collaboration with: IIT – Italian Institute of Technology and the IIT Smart Materials Group (Athanassia Athanassiou, Ilker Bayer, Giovanni Perotto – Material experts).

Keywords: responsive architecture, material intelligence, buildings that think, zero emissions materials, adaptive structures, artificial intelligence, digital fabrication

Architecture is today facing new challenges. The technological revolution of the Information Era and the advancement of digital manufacturing have brought new concepts to architecture. The physical space intertwines with the digital content and the electronic and physical connections become one.
Buildings are becoming computing machines, both as performative as well as programmable at the material molecular level of their integrated smart materials. Buildings are also starting to become artificially intelligent, through machine learning and evolutionary algorithms.
At the same time, the interaction among environment, users and built space is radically changing. User interfaces or mixed reality devices (AR/VR) allow people to navigate differently in the city, to visualize digital data in the physical space and to take more informed decisions about their desires, designs and eventually their inhabitation styles.

The fluid environments of our digital era become the appropriate context for exploring novel possibilities for adaptive building solutions that contribute to the hyperconnected as well as energy hungry life and inhabitation style we lead. If the anthropocene (or capitalocene) scenario of human impact requires constant change, if climate mutates, if information “runs” in extreme speeds of bits and bytes, then our human made architecture and built space should be able to change, “run” and mutate rather than just being merely inhabited. Architecture shall, and does move towards the performative2, the performative instrument3 or the Alive4.

[DM] Research line focuses on the research and development of an architecture that is not merely inhabited, but becomes technologically integrated, interactive and evolutional. It researches the implementation of smart , active or zero emissions materials coupled with responsive technologies for the creation of dynamic built spaces that respond, move, feed the soil, breathe, change shape and state. [DM] explores the architecture that responds and adapts to continuous fluxes of the surrounding environment and user’s needs, becoming closer to living organisms, as well as performing as such. 

By incorporating responsive technologies into the building systems, architects have the ability to tie the shape of a building directly to its environment or to its users needs. This enables us to reconsider the way we design and construct space not towards purely aesthetic creations but exploring “responsive architecture as the natural product of the integration of computing power into built structures” . The next architectural design, is the one of enabling the design of relationships, behaviours and modes of operation that endures beyond construction.

The key, thus, to the 21st century’s challenges generated by global urbanization, economic instability and particularly the increasing awareness related to the environmental crisis will be the development of high efficient “products” with increasing levels of functionality. Architecture following every stage of life will have to address and respond to both challenges and advancements. Our buildings and cities will need new interfaces to communicate with the environment and embedded systems of performance that do not rely on existing urban infrastructures. Active materials will play a critical role in this development, forcing architects to get free from mechanical actuators or computing devices and integrate into their designs the inherited functions that “smart materials” present on a molecular scale.
At the same time, within the and economic and environmental crisis context, rethinking materials as zero or negative emissions materials, able to filter contamination or feed the soil, become protagonists of a more productive mode of inhabiting following principles of circular economy.
Finally, advanced digital manufacturing techniques will allow us to digitally fabricate the new material systems and dynamic building components bringing another level of sustainability awareness, one that questions concepts of durability or longevity and brings forward concepts of dynamics, adaptability and metabolism.

Should we continue constructing rigid and fixed structures?
Or can buildings and cities begin to think?

Understanding the significant need of generating the production of non-rigid, responsive and multi-functional material and construction systems, as well as the need of designing new platforms for interaction among environment, users and built space, the Digital Matter Research Line develops case studies on digital and computed matter, exploring intelligent construction systems to be applied at architectural scale.

In collaboration with the Smart Materials Group of the Italian Institute of Technology  as well as experts in adaptive architecture, Digital Matter sets up a multidisciplinary team for developing the new designs, tools and building protocols for Responsive Architecture.

Students will be working and designing  with smart active and bio material systems with a particular focus on Space Performance. Digital design and physical prototypes of Buildings, Skins and Structures that are able to think, actuate, respond to environmental forces and interact with users needs will be the outcome of the final projects. Computational design for dynamic geometries, physical computing, artificial intelligence and thermodynamics simulations will be the tools to generate the Responsive Designs and Prototypes. Digital fabrication with a focus on robotic and functionally graded materials through additive manufacturing (3d printing) will be explored for the construction of the novel intelligent building systems.

The method of investigation follows a rigorously experimental approach and progresses in complexity from small scale material sampling to the production of 1:1 scale architectural components and prototypes.



1 Malm A., 2009, Haraway D., Anthropocene, Capitalocene, Plantationocene, Chthulucene: Making Kin, Environmental Humanities, vol. 6, pp. 159-165, 2015.
2 Kolarevic, B., Malkawi. A. Performative Architecture: Beyond Instrumentality, Routledge, 2004.
3 Beesley, P, and Khan, O. Responsive Architecture/Performing Instruments, New York: The Architectural League of New York, 2009.
4 Kretzer M., Hovestadt L., Alive, Advancements in Adaptive Architecture, Basel: Birkhäuser, 2014. 

5 Negroponte, N.: Soft Architecture Machines, Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 1975r M., Hovestadt L., Alive, Advancements in Adaptive Architecture, Basel: Birkhäuser, 2014.
6 The Italian Institute of Technology (IIT) is a scientific research centre based in Genoa (Italy, EU). Its main goal is the advancement of science, through projects and discoveries oriented to applications and technology.

Previous Projects of Digital Matter Research Line
Previous Projects of Digital Matter Research Line

[DigitalMatter] 2018-19 RESEARCH TRIP
DATES: 8th-12th April, 2019

All students are expected to check if they need VISA and make the arrangements to acquire it on time.
Students will cover all their travel expenses for the research trip.


[DigitalMatter] 2018-19 GUEST PROFESSORS
– Giovanni Perotto – Smart Materials Group, IIT // Material Scientists (Guest Tutor along the year + Workshop December 2018)

– Alessandro Zomparelli – Co-De-IT // Architect, Expert in Computational and Material Simulations (Guest tutor-Workshop January 2019)
– Manuel Kretzer, ETH-CAAD, Bauhaus in Dessau // Architect, Founder Materiability, Expert on smart materials (Guest tutor-Desk Crit 2019)
– Moritz Begle, ETH Block Research Group // Architect, [DM] Alumni, (Research trip, April 2019)
more to be announced along the academic year


– Workshop 1: 17th – 19th December, 2019 [MATTER] – Workshop 2: 17th – 19th January, 2019 [DESIGN GEOMETRY AND SIMULATE MATTER]
Key words: adaptation, self organization, smart materials, responsive environments, dynamics, evolution
The Digital Matter Research Line will start with the organization of a Mega Matter intensive workshop of 2 parts. The first part (17th-19th December) focused on physical materials and the second part (17th-19th January) focused on digital design and simulations. The objective is to explore active materials and understand how design can contribute to program performance. The Mega Matter Workshop will introduce a series of “smart materials” such as graphene and bioplastics as an introduction to the possibilities of developing dynamic architectural proposals through programming matter.

Mega Matter Part 1, 17-19th December, 2018
Workshop: Graphene based Materials and Bioplastics
Faculty: Giovanni Perotto, , Italian Institute of Technology, Material Scientists
Date: Monday & Tuesday 17th-18th December, 2018

Since graphene’s isolation in 2004 it has captured the attention of scientists, researchers and industry worldwide. Graphene has many extraordinary properties. It is about 100 times stronger than the strongest steel. It conducts heat and electricity very efficiently and is nearly transparent. It is considered to be the material of the future in different applications such as lightweight structures, water purification technology, energy generation and storage, wearable technologies among others. During the workshop we will introduce the material and their properties as well as previous applications developed. Graphene will be one of the core materials students will be working with during the a special composite developed at the IIT that it will be available to the students of Digital Matter for using it in their architectural proposals during their 6 month Research Studio.
Bio based materials, such as bioplastics based on organic waste become an alternative to the high contaminating plastic industry that also impact architecture. 40% of the materials used in architecture interiors and exteriors could be replaced with bio based materials. At the same time, following circular economy principles, reusing our waste becomes crucial for a healthy environmental metabolism. Bio plastics based on organic waste, is a revolutionary way to introduce zero emissions materials that can biodegrade and eventually feed the land after constructions.

Theory and Applications
Faculty: Areti Markopoulou, David Andres Leon
Date: Wednesday, December 19th 2018, 10.00-14.00

During the Mega Matter workshop, a theoretical discourse will be presented and discussed with the students introducing the basic principles of responsive architecture, dynamic systems and adaptability. Sessions along the year of the studio, including presentations, readings and discussions will take place so that students get a deeper understanding of the pioneer research background related with [Digital Matter], Design Performance and Responsive Architecture. Students will be given a selected bibliography to read during the Christmas break and along the year.

[Digital Matter] Previous Projects
Invited [Digital Matter] Alumni
Date: Wednesday, December 19th 2018, 16.00-18.00

A series of presentations by previous [Digital Matter] projects that can help the students understand the nature of the research work to be developed.


Mega Matter Part 2, 17-19th January, 2019
Workshop Seminar: Introduction to Blender: Design Complex Geometries and Simulate Materials and Performance
17th-19th January, 2019

Blender is a flexible and open-source software, initially developed for 3d animation.Its mesh modelling tools and various features makes it a great ally for architects and computational designers. During the 3 day workshop students will be introduced to Blender for quick modelling of complex structures as well as the design, relaxation and material simulation membranes. Students will also be introduced in volume relaxation for material optimization as well as tessellation strategies for high resolution design of organic and complex forms. Finally, weight maps will be introduced, as in important tool for controlling and modulating particular behaviours based on mathematical functions, procedural textures, attractors or manual input. Compatibility and connection strategies between blender and softwares like grasshopper or processing will be introduced.

Fig 02: Blender Geometrical explorations and simulations
Courtesy of all images: IAAC [DigitalMatter] and IAAC