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Doris Sung's Living Architecture Morphs To Protect From The Elements

The artist's designs move and react to their environment, actually anticipating humans's needs.

When Doris Sung was growing up she had several ideas about how architecture was supposed to be. From what she knew it was static, immovable, and didn't allow much room for experimentation and creativity. Fast-forward several years later, and Sung is now wildly experimenting with building mediums and metals, computer software, and nature itself to create interactive designs that respond to environmental stimuli, essentially coming to life. In the video above, we catch up with Sung in her native California to learn more about this exciting new practice, and how it creates architecture that can actually anticipate the needs of humans.


Armoured Corset, WUHO Gallery, Hollywood, California 2010

Working with groundbreaking software like Grasshopper, utilizing basic science and chemistry, and then adding in a vision all her own, Doris Sung is now at the vanguard of thermobimetal architecture. This is the practice of layering different alloys, often used to achieve a moveable "third skin" (the first is human flesh, the second clothing, and the third architecture). The technique is widely gaining momentum for its potential use in sun-shading, self-ventilating, shape-changing and structure-pre-stressing architecture.

Living in LA, Sung saw the opportunity to use this technique to make day-to-day life better. Thermobimetal (as seen above and below) can be used as a surface material to allow air to pass through a wall when the interior or exterior temperature gets too hot. This means that as the west coast sun starts to make a room unbearable, these "smart walls" will allow fresh air to come through via porous surfaces.

Below we've brought together four of our favorite projects where design has also become sentient, blurring the lines between the interactive and total sci-fi fantasy.

Designed at The Institute for Computational Design (ICD), part of the University of Stuttgart in Germany, the above pavilion structure responds to changes in its surrounding climate by way of its "skin." Mimicking the way real skin reacts to shifts in temperature, the wood-composite material is able to respond to fluctuations in humidity, as best illustrated through the opening and closing of its flower-shaped apertures.


John Grade's installation Capacitor is a giant responsive coil that changes depending on what's going on outside. The kinetic sculpture translates what's happening with the weather into a five to ten minute experience. Weather sensors placed on the roof of the center feed back to the coil, causing it to move and shift in response to wind direction and change luminosity in response to changes in temperature.

The design of the coil is inspired by a microscopic marine plant called coccolithophore, with each flute representing an individual organism—as these brighten or dim and shift around the sculpture will look like its alive. “The whole of the sculpture will appear to be very slowly breathing.” says the artist John Grade.

Parametric Space
This Zaha Hadid piece reacts to visitors' movements by changing color and shape. As visitors first enter the space the ceiling appears flat, but the appearance soon changes and extends into glowing funnels. As a visitor moves closer the flexible membrane grows bigger while moving away causes it to retract.

As well as shape-shifting, the funnel also tingles with thousands of light particles that are projected onto it. These "inhabit the surface reacting on the membrane movements, creating an almost dreamy but still tangible experience related to the parametrically architectural language that Zaha Hadid Architects are known for."

Cerebral Hut
Cerebral Hut is a kinetic installation that moves in response to the thoughts of the viewer. The piece resembles an out-of-this-world cave, with an interface that measures brain frequencies and turns them into a reactive environment.  Created by Guvenç Ozel in collaboration with designer Alexandr Karaivanov and media artists Jona Hoier and Peter Innerhofer, the instillation uses a commercially available device to measure concentration and blinking, and then runs scripts on them that are communicated to the physical space.  If the viewer comes in with a normal state of mind, the Hut is relatively calm; if the viewer begins to concentrate, for example on thoughts of motion, the Hut moves more and more frenetically, undulating like a moving wave.  The result, in Ozel's words, "is the first of its kind in the world where architecture reconfigures itself physically with thoughts."

For more information of Doris Sung, visit her website here.

For more information of Doris Sung, visit her website here. You can also check out Sung's recent TED Talk below: