Architectural research students in Barcelona showcase a prototype of a shape-shifting building which expands and contracts as heat is applied. Amy Pollock reports.
Buildings are supposed to be rigid and stationary. But in the future, those made with a Shape Memory Polymer could change shape and expand with changes in temperature. Researchers at Barcelona's Institute of Advanced Architecture have laid the foundations with an origami prototype building that bends and twists at high temperatures. Team member Ece Tankal says they were looking for a material with the ability to bend AND remember its initial shape. (SOUNDBITE) (English) IAAC STUDENT ECE TANKAL, SAYING: "While we were trying to find the exact material that could change phase from a rubbery state to a solid state, which could act as a structural element in the building, we came up with this new material." The project known as 'Translated Geometries' uses triangular tiles to make up the origami structure. Researcher Ramin Shambayati says the team can create movement at each correcting point - or node - of the structure. (SOUNDBITE) (English) IAAC STUDENT, RAMIN SHAMBAYATI, SAYING: "By heating each specific node we can soften the material and then by pulling or pushing it will determine what the final output is. Upon cooling again it holds the new shape. So right now this is cool and hard and it is not going to move but when we re-soften it it can easily be transformed." The polymer is heated directly using electric wires. Once the temperatures passes 62 degrees Celsius it becomes elastic, allowing the building to bend and twist. Drones attached to the structure by wires fly around it and stretch it into the desired position. They then hold the structure in the new shape for two minutes while it cools down. Team leader Areti Markopoulou says buildings of the future will have to change with our needs. (SOUNDBITE) (English) ACADEMIC DIRECTOR OF IAAC, ARETI MARKOPOULOU, SAYING: "We can take our houses with us like animals do in nature and we can transform it according to what we need: if it is a bigger family then we need to expand our house or whether we need more transparency and translucency because of the light and outside temperature. So our house would be able to adapt to that. And we could even put it in our pocket and then unfold it and create a three-dimensional structure." She says while we're unlikely to see entire buildings like the 'Translated Geometries' prototype in the near future, the principle could be applied to pavilions, interiors or the facades of buildings.