2014 Designing Responsive and Adaptive Environments



April 28 – 6th June 2014 (Workshop Intensive May 5th – 16th)


Studio Coordinator: Jane Burry collaborating with visiting Associate Professor Nancy Cheng from University of Oregon and PhD researchers: Mehrnoush Latifi and Daniel Prohasky

Invited lectures:

Scott Mitchell, RMIT Industrial Design; Jenny Underwood, RMIT Textile Design; Malte Wagenfeld RMIT Industrial Design; Chin Koi Khoo, Post doctoral researcher; Kamil Sharaidin, PhD researcher; Nicholas Williams, SIAL.

Jenny Underwood

Short Description:

This MDIT Studio engaged at the phenomenal level with the turbulent world of atmospheric dynamics that shape our environments leading to more subtly sensitive, responsive and energy conserving design solutions. In the ubiquitous computing era, designers can now capitalise on real-time data to inform the design process. Dynamic phenomenal changes in the environment, such as light, temperature, humidity, air quality and movement can be traced with sensors and visualised to inform the design process. The opportunities come with the advent of off-the-shelf sensors, microelectronics, smart phones, new and smart materials, and augmented reality tools. In this studio participants encountered and refined the design of tools to support their design process and design a skin that responded and adapted to the fluctuations of atmosphere.

Work in the Skins Breathing – Carapace folding studio – testing physical prototypes with robot sun and wind tunnel


This studio considered the restless ever mobile, ever state changing atmosphere to which we are sensitive. We know it largely through our largest organ: the skin. Skin is deep and complex and varied across the body. It has the means to both sense and respond to atmospheric change. It grows, it sheds, it ages. Since time immemorial human cultures have constructed second skins: clothing of various types, tents, gers/yurts for rapid nomadic redeployment, walls and semi-permanent structures. Seemingly modest membranes produce dramatic variations in the atmospheric conditions within and without their bounding envelope. Consider the description of the single layer of felt of the Mongolian Ger that mediates the climate of the Steppe that varies between temperatures of up to 50 degrees in summer and negative 30 in winter. This studio challenged students to combine the simple, deployable climate modifying skin of the Ger with the responsiveness of human skin to develop a skin that senses and responds to the endless shifting vagaries of atmospherics.


While skin suggests certain soft plastic and elastic qualities, another approach to enclosure is the exoskeleton or carapace so as an alternative to the idea of the soft membrane, students worked with the possibility of the folding carapace

Nancy take 3
project and image credit: Associate Professor Nancy Cheng, University of Oregon


Two material strategies were suggested as starting points: the first, the exploration of the folding surface; the second,the exploration of textiles. Each of these material points of departure suggested approaches to responsiveness in the surface. Students explored innate material responses to changing atmosphere as well as more active strategies such as integrating shape memory alloy or actuators.

micro electronics

Skills and techniques

Participants in this studio explored ideas for how a constructed skin might sense and respond to atmospheric variations. They worked iteratively with physical sample prototypes from the first assignment. In the course of the studio, they became familiar with Rhino 3D v5 and the plugins Grasshopper, Firefly, Kangaroo, Ladybug and Honey Bee in order to be able to iteratively model and simulate the behaviour of their designs digitally. They also became familiar with the application of micro electronics and linking them through a digital interface for sensing and actuation.

Nancy the person

Nominated Readings

Burry, Jane ed. Designing the Dynamic, 2013, Melbourne Books. (In particular Malte Wagenfeld, The Dynamics of Sensual Atmospheres, p124-141.)

Burry, Jane, and Mark Burry. The New Mathematics of Architecture. London: Thames & Hudson Ltd, 2010. (In particular: Chapter 6 Datascapes and Multidimensionality p208 –251)

Anna Dyson, Bess Krietemeyer, Neil Katz and Satoshi Kiyono “Bioresponsive Building Envelopes.” Accessed June 18, 2012. http://smartgeometry.org/index.php?option=com_community&view=groups

Fox, Michael, and Miles Kemp. Interactive Architecture. London: Princeton Architectural Press, 2009.

Frazer, John. An Evolutionary Architecture. London: AA Publications, 1995

Khoo, Chin Koi, Flora Salim and Jane Burry. “Designing Architectural Morphing Skins with Elastic Modular Systems.” International Journal of Architectural Computing, 09 (2011): 413-14.

Lawson, Bryan. How Designers Think: The Design Process Demystified. Oxford: Architectural Press, 1980

McCullough, M., Digital Ground: Architecture, Pervasive Computing, and Environmental Knowing, The MIT Press, Cambridge, MA, 2004

Peters, Terri, ed. AD Architectural Design Special Issue: Experimental Green Strategies: Redefining Ecological Design Research November/December 2011 Volume 81, Issue 6 Pages 1–136, i–iii