RS.3 Research Studio

Lead Faculty: Areti Markopoulou
Faculty Assistants: David Andrés León, Raimund Krenmüller
Computational Advisor: Angelos Chronis
In collaboration with: IIT, IIT, the Italian Institute of Technology and the Smart Materials Group
IT Material Experts: Athanassia Athanassiou, Ilker Bayer, Giovanni Perotto, Material Scientist

Keywords: responsive architecture, material intelligence, buildings that think, space dynamics, mixed reality, 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 capitalocene1) 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 materials coupled with responsive technologies such as mixed reality interfaces for the creation of dynamic built spaces that respond, move, 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” 1. 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 21st century 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.
Novel user interfaces and mixed reality tools, will also play a critical role on the novel symbiotic relations and interaction among users, built performing space and environment.
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 and mixed reality platforms to be applied at architectural scale.
In collaboration with the Smart Materials Group of the Italian Institute of Technology2 as well as experts in adaptive architecture and in Augmented and Virtual Reality, Digital Matter sets up a multidisciplinary team for developing the new designs, tools and building protocols for Responsive Architecture.

Students will be working with smart and active material systems coupled with Mixed Reality technologies (Augmented/Virtual Reality) 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, Augmented/Virtual reality, 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 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 Negroponte, N.: Soft Architecture Machines, Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 1975
2 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.
3 Malm A., 2009, Haraway D., Anthropocene, Capitalocene, Plantationocene, Chthulucene: Making Kin, Environmental Humanities, vol. 6, pp. 159-165, 2015.
4 Kolarevic, B., Malkawi. A. Performative Architecture: Beyond Instrumentality, Routledge, 2004.
5 Beesley, P, and Khan, O. Responsive Architecture/Performing Instruments, New York: The Architectural League of New York, 2009.
6 Kretzer M., Hovestadt L., Alive, Advancements in Adaptive Architecture, Basel: Birkhäuser, 2014.

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

[DigitalMatter] 2017-18 RESEARCH TRIP
USA, NYC and Boston
DATES: 3rd-10th April, 2018
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] 2017-18 GUEST PROFESSORS
Athanassia Athanassiou, Ilker Bayer, Giovanni Perotto – Smart Materials Group, IIT // Material Scientists (Guest Tutors along the year + Workshop January 2018)
Rachel Armstrong – Newcastle University // Smart Chemistry Expert, Sustainability innovator, Professor of Experimental Architecture (Guest Tutor-Workshop December, 2017)
Simone Ferracina, Rolf Hughes – Newcastle University // Researchers on Design for Living Architecture, Professors of Experimental Architecture (Guest Tutors-Workshop December, 2017)
Aviad Almagor – Trimble Inc. // Mixed Reality Expert (Guest tutor-Desk Crit 2018)
Greg Lynn – Greg Lynn Form // Architect, Expert in Augmented Reality for Architecture (Guest tutor-Desk Crit 2018)
Manuel Kretzer, ETH-CAAD, Bauhaus in Dessau // Architect, Founder Materiability, Expert on smart materials (Guest tutor-Desk Crit 2018)
Skylar Tibbits, MIT Self Assembly Lab // Architect, (Research trip, April 2018)
more to be announced along the academic year

Workshop 1: Dates: 18th – 20th December, 2017
Workshop 2: Date: 20th December, 2017
Workshop 3: January, 2018

Key words: adaptation, self organization, smart materials, responsive environments, dynamics, evolution
Digital Matter Research will start with the organization of a Mega Matter intensive workshop of 3 parts. The objective is to explore active materials and understand how design can contribute to program performance. Mega Matter Workshop will introduce a series of “smart materials” such as graphene, phase change materials and self organizing crystals, as an introduction to the possibilities of developing dynamic architectural proposals through programming matter.
Can buildings and cities perform as environmentally integrated living organisms?
Is living technology the future of an alive architecture in sync with the environment and the users needs?
The Mega Matter Workshop consist of 2 workshops conducted by different invited experts and it will introduce to the students both the theoretical and practical framework of Digital Matter.

/// Workshop 1: (Re)playing the mineral tape of life
Rachel Armstrong, Professor of Experimental Architecture, Newcastle University
Rolf Hughes, Director of Artistic Research, Experimental Architecture, Newcastle University
Simone Ferracina, Lead of Living Architecture project, Experimental Architecture, Newcastle University
Date: December 18th – 19th , from 10.00 to 19.00. December 20th , from 10.00 to 15.00

This workshop will look at the responsiveness and capacity for self-organization of matter, which will be supported by a series of talks that contextualise their architectural, technological and material significance in relationship to responsive design.
Chemical experiments will be used to demonstrate these principles, which respond to environmental and positional changes through patterning, structural change and lifelike phenomena typical of crystal formation like growth will be conducted within different activating and structural matrixes.
The first system is based on a gel matrix, where waves of solution produce diffusion and diffraction patterns, like throwing stones in a pond. You will explore the slow, dissipating nature of these chemical fronts and how they subtly record time, temperature and environment. Physical changes in the gels occur concurrently as the divalent cations cross-link with carbohydrates in the gels, which start to contract like muscles, causing the matrix to buckle, roll and fold like a developing embryo. The apparatus embodies an artificial embryogenesis that suggests parallel organizational trajectories for lifelike phenomena. Initially, these bodies are semi-permeable to their sites as porous, rich gelatinous frameworks but, as they propagate, they are canalized and gradually harden into structural fabrics and metabolic organs, which shape the choreography of soft living architecture.
The second system takes the form of a chemical garden where minerals stretch into long self-organizing structures like seaweed into ‘water glass’. While this substance is not structural it becomes harder and speaks to contingency, spatial distributions and time-based change.
Both experiments explore the emergence of new natures through replaying the tape of life from its origins as ‘parallel’ bodies, or forms of being that are deeply embedded in dynamic architectural events. The performativity of these will be interrogated as well as the agile protocols for working with matter at far from equilibrium systems through time and space. Both experiments will be conducted within cellular containers so that they are in turn, organised by participant into a meta-structure that documents dynamically changing, environmentally contextualised, spatial systems.


/// Workshop 2: Theory and Applications
Faculty: Areti Markopoulou, Angelos Chronis
Date: Wednesday, December 20th, from 17.00-20.00

The second workshop will be focused on the theoretical discourse related with the basic principles of responsive architecture, dynamic systems and adaptability. The theoretical sessions will cover two main blocks: a. Responsive Architecture, and b. Mixed Realities. Sessions of presentations, readings and discussions will take place so that students get a deeper understanding of the pioneer research background they will be developing in the following 6 months. During this session, students will be given readings and their first task to work for the first session in January, 2018.


/// Workshop 3: Graphene based Materials.
Faculty: Giovanni Perotto, Athanassia Athanassiou, Ilker Bayer, Italian Institute of Technology, Material Scientists
Date: January, 2018 (exact date TBC)
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.