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Adaptive Pneumatics is a piece of ongoing research. It was initiated to challenge conventional building design and construction methods, which exploit the use of electromechanical devices for the provision of comfortable internal environments. By exploring a new approach which integrates form generation, material behaviour and capacity, manufacturing, assembly and environmental modulation a better built environment can be created.
Due to the severe climatic changes which are occurring world-wide, the excessive use of resource-hungry heating/ cooling devices are considerably exacerbating the rate of these changes. Owning an air conditioning unit is considered a symbol of wealth, status and a hallmark of modern life in some countries. The concept of using passive methods for environmental modulation may be considered supplementary to known electrical systems. Scepticism of passive systems has derived from notions that thermal comfort might be jeopardized if passive methods are solely used, which is not the case.
Conventional buildings are largely incapable of site specific climatic modulation and do not possess the necessary technology or design acumen to be able to react to environmental changes, creating the necessity for electromechanical devices to be used. To rectify this, a new approach that links spatial, material and environmental dynamics with the patterns of habitation is critical.
Adaptive Pneumatics aims to utilize the building envelope in order to achieve a new system that is capable of reacting to its immediate climatic conditions, allowing for passive environmental modulations based on changes of temperature.
Natural living organisms formed the principle line of study influencing research into adaptive systems. A series of questions must be asked when studying natural systems if the full potential of performance-oriented architecture is to be realised.
These questions include:
- How can an adaptive system actively adapt to its environment while retaining structural stability and robustness?
- How can an adaptive system respond to continuously changing conditions without collapsing?
- Can a building actively respond to external environmental stimuli while still effectively performing structurally without relying on electromechanical modulation devices?
Biological adaptation combines the environmental and structural performance of a system, which are embedded characteristics of natural systems. These characteristics contribute to the formation and evolution of organisms, while relating to their innate material properties. Through the evaluation of these natural formations and evolution processes design methods for creating architecture can be radically changed. This can be done by shifting away from the traditional methods of design, which often fixate on notions of structural design revolving around stiffness and efficiency. In this traditional sense, stiffness often denotes that structural members should have minimal bending moments, while efficiency implies enabling structural stiffness to be created using the least amount of energy and materials possible. This new methodology moves towards using a more flexible and adaptable system, which, however does not conform to the traditional sense of efficiency. The reason behind this is that natural organisms are comprised of multiple criteria for form generation, and inherent structural behaviour and performance characteristics. The notion of efficiency is therefore being re-interpreted to produce the best possible solution in relation to the multiple criteria listed previously. A comprehensive understanding of the inherent potential and limitations of material properties is crucial when integrating natural system performance theories into form finding methods.
In nature materials can display a variety of characteristics without changing their chemical makeup. The difference emanates from the materials arrangement. Nature masterfully demonstrates how particular materials can change its characteristics in accordance to changing environmental or climatic conditions and requirements. Our interest lies with the performance of these particular natural systems and the different types of structural differentiation that enable the systems to react to immediate environmental conditions and be able to bear structural loads while not collapsing due to unanticipated phenomenon. Therefore the question of how we can utilize the immense potentials of existing materials within architecture to deliver environmentally responsive buildings becomes paramount.
We have looked to answer this question by exploring the potentials of pneumatic systems, which are abundant in nature, comprising both structural and adaptation characteristics. In the building industry pneumatic structures are among the lightest and most economically viable in terms of the cost relating to spatial organisation and environmental modulation. As pneumatic structures are able to bear tension and compression loads simultaneously it makes them one of the most interesting material systems.
The pneumatic material system benefits from being:
- Light weight
- Convenient to transport in deflated state
- Excellent insulation properties
- Easily deployable
- Economical feasibility
The research focussed on unfolding the performative capacities inherent in the pneumatic material system with regards to specific environmental conditions. Empirical design methods facilitate the stimulation of material adaptation and modulation in accordance to environmental and structural conditions. By using empirical design methods analysis of the construction of materials in regards to their geometrical features, assembly logic, construction limits and interaction with environmental conditions can occur through the use of natural stimuli.
Pneumatic systems can be structural while having adaptable openings in order to modulate environmental conditions. Adaptation to ambient environmental conditions provides the system the greatest opportunity for natural ventilation and direct sunlight penetration control. Sensing and activation are embedded in each cell component stimulating responses locally and independently. Links in the local, regional and global scales enable distributed intelligence to occur. Thus, the environmental control via geometrical manipulation may emerge.
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