Jenny E. Sabin & Andrew Lucia, Cornell University
Shu Yang, Nader Engheta, Jan Van der Spiegel, Kaori Ihida-Stansbury, Peter Lloyd Jones, University of Pennsylvania
Material intensities operate at multiple length scales, over time and across disciplinary boundaries. An inspiring quote by protagonist, Buckminster Fuller, describes this particular scenario. He states, “About 1917, I decided that nature did not have separate, independently operating departments of physics, chemistry, biology, mathematics, ethics, etc. Nature did not call a department heads’ meeting when I threw a green apple into the pond, with the department heads having to make a decision about how to handle this biological encounter with chemistry’s water and the unauthorized use of the physics department’s waves … nature probably had only one department and only one coordinate, omnirational, mensuration system.” It is not possible to discuss material intensity outside of geometry and energy. Energy, simulation and the environment are topics not regulated to building performance alone because materiality is both scientific and architectural. In addressing material intensities, the problem of sustainability inevitably surfaces and ultimately demands a systemic approach to the design of materials and their affects. This requires trans-disciplinary collaboration and a commitment to design as research and design as process.
For the past six years, I have engaged in work that sits at the forefront of a new direction for 21st-century architectural research practice—one that investigates the intersections of architecture and science, and applies insights and theories from biology and computation to the design of material structures. This blog post will discuss my latest research project in collaboration with a number of scientists and designers.
Since the official public launch in the fall of 2010 of our National Science Foundation (NSF) Emerging Frontiers in Research and Innovation (EFRI) Science in Energy and Environmental Design (SEED) project titled, Energy Minimization via Multi-Scalar Architectures: From Cell Contractility to Sensing Materials to Adaptive Building Skins, Jenny E. Sabin (Co-PI) along with Andrew Lucia (Senior Personnel) have led a team of architects, graduate architecture students and researchers in the investigation of biologically-informed design through the visualization of complex data sets, digital fabrication and the production of experimental material systems for prototype speculations of adaptive building skins, designated eSkin, at the macro-building scale. The full team, led by Dr. Shu Yang (PI), is actively engaged in rigorous scientific research at the core of ecological building materials and design. We are exploring materiality from nano- to macroscales based upon understanding of non-linear, dynamic human cell behaviors on geometrically defined substrates. The insights as to how cells can modify their immediate extracellular matrix (ECM) microenvironment with minimal energy and maximal effect have led to initial prototypes that incorporate biomimetic design and engineering of highly aesthetic, passive materials, and sensors and imagers that will eventually be integrated into responsive building skins at the architectural scale.