Dec 11, 2014 | By Simon

When it comes to new and exciting 3D printing applications, it's not uncommon for exciting developments in additive manufacturing to come out of various universities and their wide variety of research projects.

One of the more exciting projects, which recently spawned out of a graduate school program at the University of Stuttgart's Institute for Computational Design, has explored the development of computational design and digital fabrication of climate responsive material systems for architectural applications with a focus on additive manufacturing methods.

Photo of 3D-printing the intricate, weather-responsive system © ICD University of Stuttgart

The project, which consisted of students David Correa, Steffen Reichert, Achim Menges, and led by architect, professor and founder of the Institute of Computational Design, Achim Menges, focuses on how structured systems found in nature, such as plant cones, have the natural ability to to adapt to their environment by harnessing kinematic shape changes.

Similar to how some sea life, such as sea anemones, retract when touched by a human finger, the research is focused on how non-living structures made from digital fabrication methods can learn to be responsive in their environments based on external conditions. While plastics and metals lack natural sensory input, the addition of time sensors, actuators and regulators can help mimic these responses seen in these natural biological systems.

Previous research at the Institute for Computational Design investigated the transfer of the biological principle of shape change triggered by hygroscopically induced dimensional change to humidity responsive, veneer-composite elements © ICD University of Stuttgart


Previous to this research, the Institute saw a similar project that explored how biological systems can better-translate to architectural systems in general. In the project, research students studied how hygroscopically-actuated wood veneer composite systems could be translated to larger structures. The findings led to two real-world architectural installations including the HygroScope Installation (Centre Pompidou, Paris, 2012) and the HygroSkin Pavilion (FRAC Centre, Orleans, 2013), which used the same installation structure as a building application.

The previously developed HygroSkin aperture based on the veneer-composite elements (right) employed as a weather responsive architectural skin on the HygroSkin Pavilion (left), which is closed at high relative humidity (top right) and open at low relative humdity (bottom right) © ICD University of Stuttgart

Aiming to move closer towards 3D printing and additive manufacturing for architectural purposes, the new research has utilized a similar system as the HygroSkin concept and consists of a 3D printed structure that has the capacity to sense, actuate and react to climate changes within the 3D printed material itself.

The result is a conceptual framework for a future of living and breathing architectural structures that can be programmed to respond to the environments that they reside in.

Photo of three 1 mm thick test samples (left) programmed to respond with different curvature ranges an increase/decrease in relative humidty level (right) © ICD University of Stuttgart

Photo of the continuously 3D printed aperture that shows the functional grading from the static frame-like perimeter support to the weather-responsive central region © ICD University of Stuttgart

To put these applications more into context, an architectural structure built using additive manufacturing methods may soon be able to shield itself from rain when it senses a raindrop or a building could intelligently sense heat from the sun and control its exterior to maintain a set temperature on the inside of the structure.

The concept of a town or city filled with living architectural structures that respond to external elements is nothing short of amazing. Needless to say, it's only a matter of time before these same systems find their way into smaller 3D printed product designs and applications. Find out more over at the Institute of Computation Design.

Posted in 3D Printing Applications


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