Fluid Structures

My investigation thus far this semester has lead me into the world of Computational Fluid Dynamics (CFD’s), and so I have been asking myself where exactly do fluids fit into the paradigm of architecture?

As architects, we tend to think of water for its spiritual quality and its close ties with the natural world, but what if we could literally make a building out of water or a watery-like substance? There are so many underlying properties to water which fundametally would make it an incredibly effective building material:

  • very high thermal mass
  • completely transparent
  • fire resistant
  • non toxic
  • comparatively low density
  • widely available and accessible

But above all, water is adaptable. The real strength of a fluid architecture would be its inherent dynamism. Moving forward, without entirely knowing what the future will hold for us as a species, a building material as flexible as water would be of great benefit!

So how could this become possible?

In my brief research I have come across two possible types of fluids; Non Newtonian Fluids; and Smart Fluids.

Non Newtonian Fluids have the ability to change their viscosity under certain forces such as pressure, stirring or spreading. And amongst the different types of Non Newtonian Fluids there exist both types which are able to change from solid to liquid or vice versa, at present it is unclear which type will be more beneficial. My thinking currently is that it would be better to have a material which holds its shape (solid) until the condition is applied to it and it becomes a liquid. So in this case, these types of Non Newtonian Fluids are called Thixotropic materials.

Smart Fluids act principally in a similar way. They too have the ability to change their viscosity but based on a difference in the field charge, ie. They react to the presence of either a magnetic or electric field. Unlike Non Newtonian Fluids, Smart Fluids can only change from liquid to solid when the field is activated and will hold their shape as long as the field is constant. However this provides other benefits. This means that hypothetically it should be possible to sculpt or shape these fluids with much greater control, and they are much more malleable.

The key thing with these materials will be, will the change in material viscosity be enough to maintain a degree of rigidity in the solid state and thus how does the material’s flexibility then expose itself. My research question also, is as follows:

How can Computational Fluid Dynamics be used to create and inform new malleable building fabrics in order to move towards an architecture which is truly adaptable?

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